INDIANAPOLIS — The New Palestine Dragons won their second football championship in school history Saturday night, defeating No. 2 Decatur Central 28-14 to claim the title.
The Dragons used a series of big plays in the last minute of the first half to pull away from the Hawks in what was a 14-6 game at the time. Zach Neligh found Colby Jenkins for a 30-yard TD pass, linebacker Jacob Hockett nabbed an interception – his second of the night – and, with eight seconds left came the highlight-reel play, a 27-yard TD run by Charlie Spegal as time expired in the half.
Spegal ran through a half dozen tackles on the play, which looked to be designed to gain a few more yards before a field goal attempt. He powered all the way to the pylon, diving and just getting into the end zone as the first half expired, giving the Dragons a 28-6 edge at the break.
The defenses took over from there. New Palestine would never score again, but the Hawks picked up one second-half touchdown and a two-point conversion, narrowing the gap to the final score.
Spegal led the way with 27 carries for 228 yards and 2 TDs. Neligh added 92 yards and 19 carries, also scoring a TD. Colby Jenkins had two catches for 46 yards and TD.
Aven Jones led the defense with 10 tackles. Maxen Hook added nine. Matt Brown and Austin Keele each had a sack, and Kyle King and CJ Faubion combined for 0.5 sacks each. Hockett had eight tackles and the two interceptions.
Check out Tuesday’s Daily Reporter for full coverage of the state championship game, with multiple pages dedicated to the Dragons, and a state championship magazine coming in December.
LIVE BLOG FROM THE GAME:
Decatur Central wins the coin toss and defers to New Palestine. The Dragons will receive the opening kickoff of the 5A state championship game.
Opening drive: New Palestine starts the game at their own 37-yard line. Charlie Spegal goes 51 yards on his second carry, giving the Dragons a 1st-and-goal from the 9. The Dragons drive stalled from there, resulting in a 23-yard field goal attempt by Alex Kropp. The kick was no good.
Decatur Central’s first possession: The Dragons defense holds on 3rd down, with Maxen Hook making a big stop in the backfield. The Hawks punt after a 3-and-out.
Dragons start at the Decatur Central 49-yard line for their second possession. After a few Spegal runs and a first down, quarterback Zach Neligh is sacked on a 2nd down play and his third down pass was incomplete. Dragons punt with 6:16 left in the first quarter.
The Hawks start at their own 8-yard line. The Hawks ripped off a few first down runs to get away from their own end zone but threw incomplete on 3rd and long, resulting in another punt.
New Palestine starts their third possession at their own 30-yard line. The Dragons begin the drive with a false start, and Neligh completes a 3rd and 15 pass to Colby Jenkins that goes for 16 and a first down to keep the drive alive. The Dragons get another first down on 3rd and long thanks to a Hawks pass interference penalty. Dragons nearing the red zone. After the Hawks defense held New Palestine to another 3rd and long, a pass interference penalty in the end zone gave the Dragons another first down. After a sack by Division-1 commit Chamaar Smith, Zach Neligh scrambles 20 yards on 3rd and 15 for the first touchdown of the game on the last play of the quarter.
New Palestine 7, Decatur Central 0, end 1st
The Hawks start the second quarter on their own 24, trailing for the first time tonight. Two runs combine to lose three yards and the 3rd and 13 pass is intercepted by Jacob Hockett. Dragons take over at the Decatur Central 6.
Decatur Central stonewalled Spegal two yards from the end zone on 3rd down, only for the Dragons running back to spin out of the tackle and power his way into the end zone, his 69th TD of the year.
New Palestine 14, Decatur Central 0
New Palestine shocked the Hawks with an onside kick, recovering it and taking the ball right back. A holding penalty on first down sets the Dragons back a dozen yards, but Neligh made most of it up with a pass to Ryker Large on 1st down, picking up 10 yards. Chamaar Smith picks up his second sack of the game, pushing the Dragons to a 3rd and 17. Smith is not surprisingly having a huge half, with seven tackles and two sacks. Neligh picks up a few yards on 3rd down and the Dragons punt, leading 14-0 with with 7 minutes left in the half.
After the punt, Decatur Central starts on its own 11 yard line. A few quick first downs got the Hawks to their own 40, where they converted a 3rd and 5 with a 36-yard pass to the New Palestine 24. The Hawks scored on a 24-yard TD one play later, cutting the lead in nearly in half. Maxen Hook blocks the extra point.
New Palestine 14, Decatur Central 6, 3:52 remaining in half
Charlie Spegal breaks the 100-yard mark on the Dragons first play of the ensuing drive, running 23 yards into Decatur territory. The Hawks put the Dragons into 3rd and long again, the Neligh’s pass is incomplete, bringing up a 4th down. The Dragons go for it on 4th and 7, with Neligh coming up a yard short on a scramble. Turnover on downs.
The Hawks take over with just under two minutes left in the half, looking to get closer on the scoreboard before the half. A quick 3-and-out gave the Dragons the ball back with over a minute left.
New Palestine takes over with exactly 1:00 left in the half on their own 27 with all three timeouts left. Neligh takes the first down rush 43 yards and to the Decatur 30, putting the Dragons in business. Neligh got crushed on the next play but got the pass off, finishing a 2-play, 73-yard drive with a 30-yard TD pass to Colby Jenkins.
New Palestine 21, Decatur Central 6
Decatur Central went deep on first down, with the receiver getting his hands on the ball before Kade Large knocked it out. Jacob Hockett then comes up with his second INT of the game, giving New Palestine the ball back at the Decatur 35 with :14 left.
The Dragons got 8 yards from Spegal on first down. With 8 seconds left in the half the Dragons opted to run again to get into closer field goal range, and Spegal powered through tackle after tackle, rushing 27 yards for a huge TD on the last play of the half.
HALFTIME: New Palestine 28, Decatur Central 6
Halftime stat leaders: Charlie Spegal has 139 yards and 2 TDs (his 69th and 70th of the year) on 14 carries. Zach Neligh has 15 carries for 72 yards and a TD. He’s thrown for 56 yards and a TD to Colby Jenkins. Decatur Central has 83 yards passing and just 40 yards rushing.
Decatur Central starts with a poor kick return, beginning its drive at the 13-yard line. A 3rd and 6 conversion saved the Hawks from a quick 3-and-out. A 13-yard run by William Gibson gave the Hawks back-to-back first downs. The Hawks converted another 3rd down with a 26-yard run from Kenny Tracy, putting the ball on New Palestine’s 29-yard line. Kyle King and C.J. Faubion sacked Parker Harrington on the next play, backing the Hawks up. An illegal blindside block pushed the Hawks even further back, into a 2nd and 25. A false start followed, making it 2nd and 30. A pass interference penalty against the Dragons gave Decatur Central 10 of those yards back, but pressure from King forced an incompletion and forced a 3rd and 15, which was another incompletion. The Hawks went for it on 4th and 15, with another pass falling incomplete. Turnover on downs. The entire drive took less than four minutes off the clock.
The Dragons’ next drive didn’t last long. Decatur Central turned up the pressure, coming after Neligh repeatedly and forcing a Dragons punt after one first down.
The Hawks take over at their own 22 with 5:16 left in the third quarter, desperately in need of a score. Harrington went deep on 1st down, just missing what could have a been a 66-yard TD and watching his pass fall just incomplete. Austin Keele picked up a sack on the drive. Kenny Tracy pushed the ball to New Pal’s 36 with a 20-yard run on the following play. Kyle King deflected a 2nd and long pass, putting the Hawks into a 3rd and 13. Matt Brown sacked Parker Harrington on the play, bringing up a 4th and 22 and a punt.
New Palestine takes over at its own 10 with :20 left in the 3rd quarter and a state championship nearing. Spegal went 30 yards on first down to end the quarter.
END 3RD: New Palestine 28, Decatur Central 6
I am taking the blog offline to go down to the sidelines for the 4th quarter. We will keep you posted on Twitter!