NEW PALESTINE — In some of the most unattractive playing conditions possible for a football game Friday night, New Palestine managed to turn in its most picturesque performance of the season.
The Dragons rode the legs of senior running back Nick Survant, who rushed for 231 yards and four touchdowns to lead NP to a rain-soaked 47-7 Homecoming victory over county rival Greenfield-Central.
A year after rolling to a No. 1 ranking and an undefeated regular season, New Palestine has endured a bit of bad fortune in 2012, with a rash of injuries to skill position players and three defeats in games decided by a touchdown or less.
And even though starting quarterback Blake Luker was unable to line up under center because of a hand ailment and starting running back Matt Siergiej was unavailable because of injury, a pair of third-stringers lifted the Dragons.
Sophomore Chaz Hill, who replaced Luker late last week against Shelbyville, started at QB and completed both of his passes, one of which went to Luker for a TD as time expired in the first half. And then there was Survant, who had registered 10 carries for 88 yards through the first seven weeks of the season, enjoying the game of his life in his first career start.
“I told the kids it was the most unselfish game they’ve played all season. It’s probably what we needed,” NP coach Charlie Hill said. “We had kids that couldn’t go and kids that had a great week of practice and were excited to go, and I think that showed in the game.”
Due to the consistent rain that consumed Central Indiana Friday, field conditions were bad to begin with at Shepler Field. It only got worse as the precipitation went from continual to downpour as the game wore on, turning the grass field into a mud pit.
The dreadful playing surface made no difference to Survant, who racked up 178 yards on 28 first-half carries as Chaz Hill handed off to the five-foot-10, 165-pound tailback 37 times Friday night.
“I talked to (Survant) during the week and said, ‘You’ve had a great season.’ It’s kind of hard to recognize that stuff when we’ve had our struggles,” Charlie Hill explained. “He had flashes of running it for us, and we just hadn’t used him or didn’t have to use him. He answered big.”
Survant scored on runs of one, two and 17 yards in the first half, then added another 1-yard plunge in the third quarter. The Dragons rumbled to 310 yards on the ground.
However, the dagger might have been Chaz Hill’s last-second touchdown heave to Luker to end the second quarter. Luker rose above a Cougar defender and snatched the ball away, landing in the end zone and sending the NP sideline into frenzy.
Both teams struggled to hold onto the ball, combining for 18 fumbles. The difference was G-C (3-5, 2-4 Hoosier Heritage Conference) lost four of its mishandlings whilst NP (3-5, 2-4 HHC) recovered all but one of its eight fumbles. The Cougars finished with seven turnovers.
“We were finding a way of getting it and taking care of it, and they were finding a way to give it up a little bit more tonight. That was big for us,” offered Charlie Hill, whose team had fumbled 12 times entering Friday. “We have such a turnover deficit, it’s ridiculous. But tonight we got a few back to our side.”
Things weren’t so rosy for the red-and-white to start the game, as G-C’s Brant Boles-Lattimore returned the opening kick 80 yards for a touchdown.
Yet, New Palestine promptly answered, driving 62 yards on 11 plays before culminating the drive with Survant’s first touchdown run.
“We didn’t play a very good football game, that’s the bottom line,” G-C coach Roger Dodson said. “We had about seven seconds of excitement when we returned the opening kickoff. After that, nothing went our way at all.”
The blue-and-gold couldn’t find a rhythm on offense all night, recording a trio of three-and-outs and a lost fumble on its four first-half offensive possessions. The Cougars didn’t tally their initial first down on offense until the fourth quarter, and ended the night with just eight yards of offense.
Both teams will now wait for their sectional pairing to be announced Sunday at 7 p.m. before beginning preparations for their respective regular-season finales.
NP will welcome Mt. Vernon (7-1, 6-0 HHC), which dispatched Delta 35-0 Friday to claim the outright HHC title. G-C hosts Pendleton Heights (6-2, 4-2 HHC), which bested Rushville 28-20 Friday.
“Maybe we’ll be fortunate enough to draw (New Palestine) again. Odds are we’re going to get a conference team,” Dodson offered. “Maybe we can get these guys again and see if we can improve a little bit.”