NEW PALESTINE — It was the final time at Kelso Stadium for 22 New Palestine seniors.
They made it a memorable one.
The seniors led the way in Friday’s 45-0 dominating win over Bloomington South in a Class 5A semistate on the Dragons’ home field.
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It gives the talented and plentiful Dragons class — which makes up over one-third of their 60-player roster — and their teammates the opportunity to defend their 5A state title next Friday against Valparaiso, a 10-7 winner over Fort Wayne Dwenger, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
“It’s just so special. I can’t say enough about those guys and what they’ve meant for our program,” New Palestine coach Kyle Ralph said of his senior class. “One thing we talked about tonight was there was some finality to it.
“If you win, you never play here again. If you lose, you never play here again. That’s kind of an interesting feeling for teenagers to process, but, boy, did they come out and defend their home field incredibly well. What a way to send these guys off, a shutout for the Red Rage (defense), a dominant performance by our offense. Something for these guys to remember.”
There was never any doubt.
Three plays into the game state-record holding senior running back Charlie Spegal scored on a 57-yard run. Spegal had three first-quarter touchdowns. He scored a second 57-yarder on the Dragons’ third series and added a 24-yard touchdown run to give New Pal a 21-0 lead with still 3:39 remaining in the opening quarter.
Spegal had four on the night, wrapping up the Dragons’ scoring with a three-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He had 214 rushing yards in the first half and ended with an unofficial total of 269, which would put him right at 3,000 for the season.
The four touchdowns give him 54 on the season.
“We really work together and it’s a team effort,” Spegal said. “I’ve always cherished the games I’ve played here with my teammates.”
While Spegal ran behind a dominant line on the offensive side, his fellow classmates and friends were doing the same on defense.
Bloomington South did not muster much offense all night.
Its only good field position came after a Panther interception. They started at the NP 32, but three of the next four plays were for negative yards. Senior Maxen Hook and junior Hunter Burks stuffed South 1,000-yard rusher Maveric Thiery for a 2-yard loss.
On the next play, seniors Kyle King and Will Olive sacked Bloomington South quarterback D.J. Bull. On the next play, a fourth down, senior Aven Jones sacked Bull to give New Pal the ball back on its own 32. Three plays later, Spegal had another 57-yard touchdown.
“It’s emotional,” King said of his final home game. “I’ve pretty much grown up with these guys. It’s a big game to be in and we’re glad to go back-to-back, but there was a lot under this game, being the last on this field.
“We’ve worked hard to build this program up and put in time and effort and it was a great experience doing it with my brothers one more time.”
The defense had more big plays to come. For the second straight week they had an interception return for a touchdown. Hook did it last week to solidify the win over Cathedral. It was senior Brody Luker’s time on Friday.
Just a few plays after senior kicker Alex Kropp hit a 35-yard field goal, Luker stepped in front of Bull pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. It gave New Pal a 31-0 lead with 5:30 to go until halftime.
“It felt great. I just saw the play and I broke on it,” Luker said. “It’s a great way to end my last game on that field.”
Junior quarterback Lincoln Roth had a 33-yard touchdown run to make it 38-0 at the half.
The win was the Dragons 26th in a row. Next week’s appearance in the state title game will not only be their second in a row, but the program’s fourth time in six years and fifth time overall.
The No. 1 ranked Dragons are now 13-0 on the season. Bloomington South ends its campaign 8-5.
“It means a lot to win (this last game at Kelso),” offensive lineman Jacob Brittsan said. “We protected the home field. That’s something no one can ever take away from us and winning the semistate, too, is a big thing. Only two teams do it, so it’s a big deal.”
Both teams will go into the title game unbeaten. With Valpo’s win over Dwenger, the Vikings are also 13-0 on the year.
Next Friday’s game is the third of three state title games at the stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.