WIN OR GO HOME: Dragons look to defend state title; others look for elusive sectional titles

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Mt. Vernon’s Keagan LaBelle (32) and Parker Smitley (63) stop a Pendleton Heights runner for no gain during their game on Sept. 27. Tom Russo | The Times-Post

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GREENFIELD — The sectional droughts are starting to get long for three of Hancock County’s four football teams.

While New Palestine won a sectional title last year on its way to a perfect season and Class 5A championship, Mt. Vernon, Greenfield-Central and Eastern Hancock all found themselves at the end of their seasons by the time sectional semifinals had ended.

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The Dragons are poised to make another deep tournament run, riding a 23-game win streak and No. 1 ranking into next week’s 5A semifinal. They may not be the only sectional champions to come out of Hancock County this year, though.

The tournament draw was kind to county teams, setting up potential for all four to be playing in the second week of the tournament. Here’s a closer look at each of the three sectionals in which Hancock County teams will compete.

Class 2A, Sectional 38

The Eastern Hancock Royals are in a fairly loaded sectional, with five teams having more than six wins and Shenandoah sitting right behind at 5-4. Two of the state’s Top 10 teams in 2A are in this group with No. 8 Heritage Christian and No. 10 Scecina.

The Royals avoid sectional favorites Scecina until a possible championship game, but that doesn’t mean they’ll even get there. Up first is Winchester, at 6-3, a team that runs the ball exceptionally well. Looming in the semifinal could be a potential rematch with Heritage Christian, the only team other than Lapel to knock off the Royals this year.

Last year, the Royals came into sectional play at 3-6 and were shut out by the Eagles, 21-0. This year’s team looks completely different, boasting the best passing attack in Class 2A as opposed to a run-heavy offense from a year ago. They stand out in a sectional filled with run-heavy and balanced offenses, but the Royals have excelled in quarterback Houston Swan’s sophomore season.

If the Royals get past Winchester tonight, they will host a sectional semifinal against the winner of tonight’s Heritage Christian at Northeastern game.

Eastern Hancock last won sectional titles in 2013 and 2014. Scecina is the two-time defending sectional champion. The Crusaders are the favorites again, but at least half of this eight-team field can realistically get through this sectional.

Class 4A, Sectional 21

All roads in Sectional 21 seem to point toward a Mt. Vernon and Pendleton Heights rematch.

That’s far from guaranteed, but this is a bottom-heavy sectional, with three winless teams and a one-win Greenfield-Central.

The Marauders and Arabians each drew teams without a win this season and should cruise through the first round, setting up another pair of mismatches however the rest of the first round shakes out. Both teams will be big favorites in the semifinal round, regardless of who the opponent is.

Mt. Vernon has had Pendleton Heights’ number the past two years, narrowly edging the Arabians in both regular-season contests. Whichever team would host the final would have the slight edge, though, as the Marauders look for their first sectional championship since 2012 and the Arabians search for their first since 2011.

Greenfield-Central, looking for its first sectional title since 1975, faces an uphill battle. The Cougars did get a favorable first-round draw, playing winless Muncie Central, but then likely run into a Pendleton team that beat them handily this year. The Cougars haven’t won a sectional game since the 2016 season, but they could change that tonight.

Class 5A, Sectional 14

New Palestine won’t begin its title defense until next week, when the Class 5A semifinals take place.

The Dragons are the clear favorites, but this is a much different sectional from a year ago. Gone are teams like Anderson and Greenfield-Central from last year’s group. In are No. 10 Franklin and a Whiteland team that has been in and out of the rankings this season.

The semifinal round sees the Dragons face the Warriors, while Franklin squares off with Seymour. Whiteland last won a sectional in 2014. Franklin hasn’t won one since 1984, and Seymour has been without a sectional title since 2001.

It won’t be easy for any of those teams to unseat the Dragons, led by the state’s all-time leading rusher, Charlie Spegal, who will break another record, the state’s all-time scoring mark, whenever he scores his first points of the tournament. Spegal is likely to be named Mr. Football when the season ends, but he isn’t the only player in this sectional who should be in that conversation.

Franklin has had a resurgent season, going 7-2 this year after combining to win just five games in the previous four seasons. The Grizzly Cubs are led by standout senior Drew Byerly, a dual-threat quarterback who has thrown for 16 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He has thrown for 1,509 yards and rushed for 1,048 and 19 more touchdowns.

Outside of Byerly, there isn’t likely to be much passing in this sectional, as the four teams all rank in the top six in 5A in rushing, led by the Dragons at 309.7 yards per game. Whiteland has rushed for 294.8, Franklin for 256.1 and Seymour for 234.3.

New Palestine holds the edge, though, and anything less than a sectional title would be a disappointment for the team that has the state’s second-highest scoring offense, the No. 11 scoring defense and top margin of victory. Expect the Dragons’ bid for a repeat state title to march on into the regional.

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Note: All games at 7 p.m.

Class 5A – Sectional 14

Nov. 1

G1: New Palestine (9-0) at Whiteland (6-3)

G2: Seymour (4-5) at Franklin (7-2)

Nov. 8 – championship

G1 winner vs. G2 winner

Class 4A – Sectional 21

Tonight

G1: Mt. Vernon (7-2) at Connersville (0-9)

G2: New Castle (3-6) at Richmond (4-5)

G3: Shelbyville (0-9) at Pendleton Heights (5-4)

G4: Muncie Central (0-9) at Greenfield-Central (1-8)

Nov. 1 – semifinal

G5: G1 winner vs. G2 winner

G6: G3 winner vs. G4 winner

Nov. 8 – championship

G5 winner at G6 winner

Class 2A – Sectional 38

Tonight

G1: Howe (3-5) at Shenandoah (5-4)

G2: Scecina (6-3) at Centerville (4-5)

G3: Heritage Christian (8-1) at Northeastern (7-2)

G4: Eastern Hancock (7-2) at Winchester (6-3)

Nov. 1 – semifinal

G5: G1 winner at G2 winner

G6: G3 winner at G4 winner

Nov. 8 – championship

G5 winner at G6 winner

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For a complete breakdown of tonight’s sectional games, along with a full sectional schedule, jump inside to Page BX

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