NEW PALESTINE — James Young broke through the line and saw no one in front of him.
Twelve years of playoff history chased after New Palestine’s junior running back. Young’s coach and Chatard defenders tried to catch him, but Young wasn’t going to be caught. Not tonight.
Class 4A No. 2 New Palestine defeated No. 4 Chatard 27-14 Friday night at Kelso Stadium, ending the Trojans’ streak of both 21 straight playoff victories and 12 consecutive regional titles.
The Dragons (13-0) set a new school record for wins in a season and claimed the program’s third regional crown, the last of which came in 1990, when NP felled Chatard 20-12.
New Palestine travels to No. 1 Columbus East Friday looking for its second semistate championship.
The hosts sprinted out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead Friday before the Trojans responded with 14 in the second frame to level the game at half.
The Red Rage defense suffocated Chatard in the second half, and New Palestine received a pair of field goals from a freshman kicker before Young’s’ 73-yard touchdown run with one minute and three seconds left in the game put the victory on ice.
New Palestine outgained the visitors 373-172, limited the Trojans to less than three yards per carry and held Chatard to its second-lowest point total of the season.
“They outplayed us in every phase of the game, no question,” said Chatard coach Vince Lorenzano, whose team suffered a postseason setback for the first time since Nov. 21, 2009.
A year after NP finished 3-7 — the program’s worst record in over a decade — the Dragons are one win away from their second State Finals berth.
“I think to sum this all up is just heart. We went into the meeting Monday and coach said, ‘These guys are a great team, but they’re beatable. Everybody’s beatable on any given Friday night,’” Dragon quarterback Blake Luker said. “We came out and took that to heart. We believed that we could win this game.”
With 1:14 left on the clock, New Palestine led 20-14 and faced a 3rd-and-6 from its own 27. With Chatard sporting just one timeout, a first down meant victory. Coming up short meant the Trojans could get one last chance.
The Dragons came up to the line in their customary shotgun spread formation. The team’s rookie coach, Kyle Ralph, noticed a quirk in Chatard’s alignment and flipped the off-tackle run from the left to the right. Luker handed off to Young, who was staring at 10 Trojan defenders within a few breaths of the line of scrimmage. A gap opened up, and the rest is history.
“He hit the hole, went vertical and that was it,” Ralph said. “End of story.”
Luker screamed “Go! Go! Go!” as Young burst through the line on a run that put him over 100 yards rushing for the fourth straight game.
“I gave him a big hug and told him I loved him,” Luker said. “He didn’t know if he was going get any time at running back, and he’s taken the job and been tremendous.”
An all-conference offensive lineman who went to training camps with the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks, Ralph found himself sprinting down the New Palestine sideline with Young.
“That might’ve been the fastest I’ve run since my NFL days,” Ralph said with a laugh.
It was Ralph’s defense that gave his offense the opportunity to win the game.
Trailing 20-14 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Chatard began to pound away with its power run game, chewing up yards and clock.
After 13 plays, the Trojans had 1st-and-10 at the Dragon 21.
That’s when the state’s sixth-ranked defense stepped up.
Noah Grable sacked Chatard quarterback Sam Gleaves for a 4-yard loss on second down. Then, a host of Dragons brought down Gleaves for a loss on third down, setting up 4th-and-long.
The Trojans opted for trickery on fourth down, setting up a short hook-and-ladder pass. But, Stan Jackson was brought down well short of the first-down marker, and the hosts took over.
“They came in their heavy formation and decided they were going to win the game on pure, physical football. It just came down to us having enough conditioning and enough guts to get a stop, and we did,” Ralph said. “We’ve got a lot of guys playing both ways and they really don’t. Our guys were sucking wind at the end. I told them, ‘You’ve got three minutes to play as hard as you can possibly play to be a champion the rest of your life.’
“That’s what it was all about. Those kids buckled down and got a huge stop for us.”
To begin the game, New Palestine won the toss, elected to receive and promptly went 74 yards in 11 plays. Luker scampered in from six yards out for the touchdown, but the key play was a 26-yard pass from Luker to Tyler Walden, the Dragons’ all-time leading receiver, on 3rd-and-17 from the NP 30.
Following a 3-and-out by Chatard, the Dragons embarked on another 11-play scoring drive. This time, Luker directed a 65-yard march, and he found Walden on a quick slant from three yards out put up the hosts up 14-0 with 1:20 left on the first quarter clock. Luker’s 13-yard run on 4th-and-7 from the Trojan 20 kept the drive alive.
“We were all probably a little bit nervous, a little bit shaky. That’s normal,” said Luker, who finished with 80 yards rushing and 128 yards passing. “When we came out and got that first score, we knew we could play with those guys.”
The NP defense forced another 3-and-out on Chatard’s next drive, but a muffed punt gave the visitors the ball back on the Dragon 28. Two plays later, Alex Kimack rumbled in from 15 yards out to cut Chatard’s deficit to 14-7 with 11:40 remaining in the second.
The Trojans leveled the game at 14 with 3:03 left before half on a 26-yard pass from Gleaves to Brian Ball.
After a series of 3-and-out by both teams to begin the second half, New Palestine got a drive going near the end of the quarter.
The march stalled at the Chatard 9, and Ralph summoned freshman Spencer Corey for his first varsity kick. The ninth-grader split the uprights for a 17-14 Dragon lead.
On the Dragons’ next drive, Corey again came through, converting a 36-yarder with 10:03 left in the game.
Corey’s pair of 3-pointers were the third and fourth made field goals by New Palestine on the season, and the first since Week 1.
“He kicked freshmen and JV for us all year. He’s won the job the last few weeks now,” Ralph said of Corey. “His number finally got called tonight and he stepped up and hammered two through.”
Lorenzano’s squad lost to a 4A squad for the first time all season — their prior defeats were to 3A Brebeuf Jesuit, 5A Cathedral and Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder. The Trojans were winners of three straight 3A state championships. The Trojans were bumped to 4A this fall because of the IHSAA’s tradition factor.
“All I look at is did we play to our potential on a given day, and today, we did not play to our potential,” said Lorenzano, whose squad rushed for 91 yards on 31 carries. “I didn’t coach to my potential. I didn’t do a good job, obviously.”
Luker, bruised and battered after carrying the ball 26 times against a Chatard defense that entered giving up just 14.9 points per game, had trouble standing after the game.
Looking over a raucous sea of red on his team’s home field, Luker just smiled.
“I’m all right,” he said.
Notes: New Palestine improved to 3-4 all-time in regional games. Its last win came in 1990, a 20-12 decision over Chatard. … The Dragons were tied with 1990 team for most wins prior to Friday night. The 1990 squad finished as the 3A state runner-up and went 12-2. … Chatard was going for its 14th semistate title Friday and its first in 4A. … New Palestine’s lone semistate championship came in 1990. … Columbus East, which beat Jasper 45-0 Friday, and New Palestine are the lone unbeatens left in 4A. CE and New Palestine each played Shelbyville this season. The Dragons took a 44-0 win in Week 7. The Olympians beat Shelbyville 42-7 for the Sectional 23 title last week. … Fort Wayne Dwenger and East Chicago Central will play in the other 4A semistate. … New Palestine junior Sterling Curran left with a possible concussion in the first half and did not return. … The Dragons used three kickers Friday: Corey, Kyle Barton (extra points) and Jackson Schwier (kickoffs).
New Palestine 27, Chatard 14
CH (9-4) 0 14 0 0 — 14
NP (13-0) 14 0 3 10 — 27
NP — Luker, 6-yard run (Barton kick), 6:44.
NP — Walden, 3-yard pass from Luker (Barton kick), 1:20.
CH — Kimack, 15-yard run (Sadler kick), 11:40.
CH — Ball, 26-yard pass from Geaves (Sadler kick), 3:03.
NP — Corey, 26-yard field goal, 3:59.
NP — Corey, 36-yard field goal, 10:03.
NP — Young, 73-yard run, 1:03.
First downs 8 15
Rushes-yards 31-91 43-245
Passing yards 81 128
Comp-Att-Int 8-14-1 9-16-0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 5-51 5-35
Rushing: Kimack 22-94, Geaves 5-(-14), Jost 3-7, Jackson 1-4 (CH); Young 14-154, Luker 26-80, Brickens 1-(-1), Wagner 1-0, Guedel 1-12 (NP).
Passing: Gleaves 8-14-81 (CH); Luker 10-16-128 (NP).
Receiving: Kimack 1-9, Ball 2-34, Bennett 1-4, Jackson 1-6, Salder 1-10, Ney 1-8, Taylor 1-10 (CH); Walden 5-57 Guedel 1-12, Grable 2-30, Blackwell 2-29 (NP).