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Gold standard: Marauders grab rail from rivals

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NEW PALESTINE — A piece of railroad track. A decades-old leather football helmet. Bragging rights. Pre-sectional momentum.

It was up for grabs Friday at New Palestine, and the Marauders left Shepler Field with possession of it all.

Class 4A No. 7 Mt. Vernon dominated Hancock County rival New Palestine in every facet of the game on the way to a significant 48-13 victory:

• Mt. Vernon took possession of The Boundary Rail,  which was formerly part of a train track along U.S. 40 separating the Fortville and New Palestine communities. It now serves as a traveling trophy between the football programs. The Rail was introduced in 2005, and MV has never owned the trophy, until now.

(Immediately after the Marauders’ win Friday, MV senior Tyler Dicks, who rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns, was handed a can of gold spray paint, which he applied to the previously red-and-black rail).

• Already the Hoosier Heritage Conference regular season champion, Mt. Vernon (8-1, 7-0 HHC) maintained possession of the conference’s traveling trophy, an old-school helmet, and completed its first undefeated conference season since 2003.

• New Palestine (3-6, 2-5 HHC) had won 10 of the previous 11 games in the series that began in 1968, but Mt. Vernon can make it two in a row next week. The squads will meet again on this same field in the Class 4A Sectional 13 opener.

“It was all of it,” Mt. Vernon coach said of his team’s motivation. “The biggest part is keep playing well and get ready for next week.

“We come next week, we’ll probably face a different team, a couple of (New Palestine’s) injured guys might be back. There’s been a lot of instances where teams won and then they lose in the sectional.”

It will be a tremendous turnaround for the Dragons if they’re able to threaten the Marauders in the sectional opener. Friday, the Marauders raced to a 21-0 first-quarter lead and never looked back.

At halftime, with a 34-7 lead, Mt. Vernon had rushed for 197 yards, while the Dragons had zero. Prior to a final series against the Marauders’ JV unit in the fourth quarter, New Palestine had gained nine yards on 23 attempts. Mt. Vernon finished with 334 yards on 55 carries as Dicks joined teammate Anthony Burnett in the 1,000-yard rushing club for the season.

Dicks left the game late in the third quarter with an ankle sprain, but Armstrong indicated the five-foot-10 burner would play in the rematch.

Burnett (96 yards rushing) added a touchdown Friday, fullback Andy Spears ran for 44 yards and two scores and Cody Baker pulled in an 11-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jordan Miller.

Baker and Dicks also had interceptions of New Palestine sophomore quarterback Chaz Hill, who was filling in for the second straight week for junior Blake Luker (leg). The Dragons have also been without senior running back Matt Siergiej much of the year, and that was the case again Friday.

Finally, Spears (at linebacker), safety Ross Houk and tackle Tristan Blanton were among a handful of Marauders’ defenders who set up camp in the Dragons’ backfield, while limiting the home team to a second-quarter nine-yard touchdown pass from Hill to Tylar Ledford and a late fourth-quarter six-yard touchdown run by Jackson Taylor.

In possibly the only bright spot for New Palestine, the Hill touchdown throw marked the first score the Marauders’ varsity defense had allowed since Week 5.

Still, Mt. Vernon equaled its biggest win in the 44-year series history; MV beat New Palestine 42-7 in 2000. The Dragons maintained an overall 27-21-1 lead in the rivalry, which was of little consolation to their head coach.

“They block harder than we want to tackle,” New Palestine coach Charlie Hill said of the difference in the game. “They’re more passionate about what they’re doing than we are about what we’re doing. And their runners are betters than our tacklers. It’s pretty simple stuff.

“(Injuries) had nothing to do with it. It’s a lack of desire and a lack of commitment to the gameplan. And just didn’t bring enough rocks in the pants to be able to do something about what they were going to do.”

The Dragons had two turnovers (to none for the Marauders) and also tallied eight penalties for 101 yards, including multiple 12-men-on-the-field infractions. Mt. Vernon had one penalty for five yards.

The lone scare for the Marauders came late in the third quarter when Dicks lay on the field for several minutes before limping to the sideline. Dicks, with 1,061 yards on the year, and Burnett (1,216) are a so-far unstoppable force in the Marauders’ wing-T, power toss attack. That tandem appeared in jeopardy when Dicks went down, although he proved to be alright.

Even though the Marauders had the game well in hand, Armstrong explained that there’s a critical difference in taking out the varsity players at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth.

“It’s hard to replace (the varsity) until the end of the third quarter because then it eats up a JV kid’s quarter for Monday,” Armstrong noted, referring to the amount of total quarters a player can participate in JV and varsity games throughout the week, per IHSAA rules. “That’s hard to deal with, but luckily (Dicks) is okay.”

That Armstrong’s main concern is juggling his varsity and JV players in blowout victories says something about the success of this squad, which entered the final week of the regular season as the highest scoring team in 4A (44.9 points per game) and the sixth-best defensive unit (14.6 ppg).

It was more of the same Friday.

“I thought we hit really well tonight,” Armstrong said. “We were strong, we were hitting people.

“And this all started about a year ago in the weight room, the week after we lost sectionals (to Pendleton Heights, 31-7). We started, so now we see how much it pays off and how far we can take it in the playoffs.”

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