Battle of Unbeatens: Dragons, Vikings clash for 5A state title with perfection on the line

New Palestine lifts up the IHSAA semi-state Championship trophy after defeating Bloomington South on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

INDIANAPOLIS —When Kyle Ralph met with New Palestine athletics director Al Cooper before he took over the Dragons football program seven years ago, the duo outlined their goals.

Coming off a 3-7 season, Cooper suggested a return to a .500 record would be a huge step in the right direction to get people to start believing again.

“I remember getting the first weightlifting numbers and watching the film, and I called (Cooper), and I said, I don’t know if that’s possible,” Ralph recalled. “I’m just not sure. I don’t think 5-5 can be done.”

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A 13-0 run and a regional championship —the program’s first since 1990 —proved otherwise in 2013 until a crushing 49-14 defeat against Columbus East at semistate set the Dragons’ rise to prominence in motion.

In 2014, New Palestine avenged the past en route to a 15-0 finish and a Class 4A title. In 2015, they nearly repeated, but despite the greatest comeback in state finals history, the Dragons fell short.

Another lesson learned much like in 2013, and one they can correct tonight when top-ranked defending state champion New Palestine (13-0) takes on fellow unbeaten Valparaiso (13-0) inside Lucas Oil Stadium for the 5A title at 7 p.m.

“I never thought it would become what it has become and quite frankly, all I wanted to do was beat Danville that first year. I didn’t care about anything else. I just wanted to win the first one, and Danville was really good,” Ralph recalled. “I didn’t care about anything else in the world except being 1-0. Our teams have bought into the 1-0 motto.”

With one more win until their third championship in four state finals appearances the past six years, the Dragons will need to work for their potential first back-to-back.

Valparaiso enters ranked second in the state and played the previous six seasons in 6A before dropping down a classification after the IHSAA’s most recent realignment.

The Vikings’ defense ranks seventh in the state permitting a mere 9.0 points per game and has outscored the opposition 104-7 this postseason with two shutouts.

With an enrollment of nearly 2,000, Valparaiso almost doubles New Palestine’s 1,173 which based on numbers alone places them in 4A, but with success comes the IHSAA’s success factor and new challenges.

Nothing new for the Dragons, a smaller public school on the west side that continues to show they can despite the odds.

“They’re huge. They played in the 6A tournament last year, so they look exactly what you would think of a 6A team. They look like a MIC (Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference) school,” Ralph said.

“Three times we’ve made it here a division above where we belong, and our roster size, this is the first year we’ve been above 55 and made it down here. It’s not easy to do those things with a school of our size. I’m really proud of our staff.”

Talent never hurts either, and the Dragons have arguably one of the best in senior running back Charlie Spegal, who is the first in IHSAA history to rush for 3,000 yards in two different seasons.

Spegal has 3,008 yards and 54 touchdowns this year and 1,045 yards and 16 touchdowns in the state tournament. The bruising back is the state’s all-time leader in rushing yards (10,707) and touchdowns (174), rushing touchdowns (172) and points scored (1,048).

Spegal has 326 points this season, broke Sheridan’s Brett Law’s single-season total touchdown record of 66 with 70 last year and pushed past Warren Central’s Darren Evans’ single-season rushing touchdown record of 61 with 68 in 2006.

The Dragons are averaging 50.3 points and 435.2 yards per game. Their margin of victory ranks first in the state at 42.3 ppg and fifth in points allowed at 9.0.

“Not to put one facet of the game in a larger perspective than the other, but the defense is going to have to play lights out, which they have done all season long,” Valparaiso head coach Bill Marshall said. “It’s remarkable that we’ve been able to go from averaging 9.2 points allowed last year to 9.0 this year. That’s a testament to our kids. But what most people don’t realize, we’re also averaging about 25 more points scored than we did last year, too.”

That’s where the Red Rage comes in, Ralph emphasized. The Duneland Athletic Conference champions have rode Tommy Burbee, who has 1,661 yards rushing with 22 touchdowns. Hayden Vinyard has rushed for 711 yards and seven touchdowns, while Matt Tomczak has 11 rushing touchdowns.

“The big thing is New Pal obviously has the leg up because they have played here before in this venue. I think the big thing for us and our staff is being able to explain to our kids that we’ve been in big games, especially the last two years,” Marshall said. “We’re not new to 5,000 to 7,000 people cheer us on or another 3,000 opponents cheering against us. The only thing that’s changing is a longer bus trip, and we’re in the house the Colts built.”

Tonight marks the Vikings’ first trip to state since 2001 in 5A and were state champions in 1975 in 3A.

“We’ll gladly wear that underdog hat because many games this year we were the underdogs,” Marshall said. “One thing we know about our kids is they will get off the bus full steam and be excited and thrilled to be here.”

The Dragons are fixated on finishing the job behind a balanced attack on offense where quarterback Lincoln Roth has 1,526 yards passing and 19 touchdowns.

The defense led by linebacker Aven Jones (106 tackles, 6.5 sacks) and defensive back Maxen Hook (80 tackles, two interceptions) posted it’s third shutout to reach state after the Dragons’ defeated Bloomington South 45-0 at semistate.

“The biggest challenge will be facing their bigger guys, but we just have to stay strong and physical,” Jones said. “We want to stop everything. We want to get the job done. No matter what it takes.”

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Road to a Repeat

Who: No. 1 New Palestine (13-0) vs. No. 2 Valparaiso (13-0)

What: Class 5A State Championship

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis

When: 7 p.m.

How: To attend, tickets are $15 per day. To listen, the game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Indiana Plus and a live stream will air at

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New Palestine

• The Dragons have won 27 consecutive games while posting their seventh straight unbeaten regular season and 11th in school history.

• New Palestine captured its 11th Hoosier Heritage Conference title this season and seventh consecutive with 48 straight HHC wins.

• The Dragons have reached the state title game for a fourth time in six years and fifth overall. They are seeking their third championship.

• The team ranks first in the state in margin of victory (42.3 ppg), second in points per game (50.3) and fifth in points allowed (9.0).

• Senior running back Charlie Spegal is the first in IHSAA history to rush for 3,000 yards in two different seasons. He is the state’s all-time rushing leader with 10,707 yards and holds state records for career touchdowns (174), rushing TDs (172) and points (1,048).

• Head coach Kyle Ralph is 87-4 in seven seasons at New Palestine with a winning percentage of .956.


• The Vikings are competing in their fourth football state championship overall and for the first time since 2001.

• Valparaiso last won a football state championship in 1975 as a member of Class 3A.

• The Vikings spent the previous six seasons in Class 6A before dropping down to 5A following the IHSAA’s recent classification realignment.

• The Vikings’ defense ranks seventh in the state allowing 9.0 ppg. The team’s 32.3 ppg margin of victory ranks fourth in the state. The offense averages 41.3 ppg.

• Valparaiso hasn’t allowed more than seven points during the state tournament and have shut out two opponents to win both sectional and regional.

• Vikings head coach Bill Marshall is 23-4 in only his second year at Valparaiso. The team won the Duneland Athletic Conference with a perfect 7-0 record.

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Historic Run

• New Palestine senior running back Charlie Spegal is the only player in IHSAA history to rush for more than 10,000 career yards and score 1,000 career points. He is one of 11 players to rush for 3,000 yards in a season and the first to achieve the feat in two different seasons. He owns five state records and eight school records.

Career Stats






State Records

Career Rushing Yds

1. 10,707, Charlie Spegal, New Palestine/Delta (2016-19)

2. 8,110, Sammy Mireles, Elwood (2010-13)

Career Scoring

1. 1,048, Charlie Spegal, NP/Delta (2016-19)

2. 952, Brett Law, Sheridan (1986-89)

Career Total TDs

1. 174, Charlie Spegal, New Palestine/Delta (2016-19)

2. 141, Brett Law, Sheridan (1986-89)

Single-Season Total TDs

1. 70, Charlie Spegal, New Palestine (2018)

2. 66, Brett Law, Sheridan (1988)

Single-Season Rushing TDs

1. 68, Charlie Spegal, New Palestine (2018)

2. 61, Darren Evans, Warren Central (2006)

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Individual Statistics

Valparaiso Vikings (13-0)



Tommy Burbee;13;24;0;0;0;144;11

Antonio Osorio;13;11;0;0;0;66;5

Matt Tomczak;13;11;0;0;0;66;5



Tommy Burbee;13;220;1,661;22;128;7.6;78

Hayden Vinyard;13;101;711;7;55;7.0;61

Matt Tomczak;13;45;359;11;28;8.0;25



CJ Opperman;13;87;149;7;13;1,377;106



Luke Patterson;13;35;535;6;41;15;42

Antonio Osorio;13;27;402;2;31;15;40

Blake Worthington;13;10;164;2;13;16;25


Name;G;Tackles;For Loss;Sacks;INT;FF;FR

Sam Carpenter;13;57;1;1.0;0;0;0

Mason Maple;13;48;1;5.5;3;0;0

Dylan Dingman;13;48;4;11.0;0;0;0

Cooper Jones;13;46;4;6.5;0;0;0

Jacob Hruska;13;39;5;4.5;0;0;0

Noah Beller;13;38;2;5.0;0;0;0

New Palestine



Charlie Spegal;13;54;0;1;0;326;25.1

Eric Roudebush;13;3;37;0;0;55;4.2

Maxen Hook;13;9;0;0;0;54;4.2

Lincoln Roth;13;8;0;0;0;48;3.7

Blake Austin;9;7;0;1;0;44;4.9



Charlie Spegal;13;307;3,008;54;231.4;9.8;73

Lincoln Roth;13;96;661;8;50.8;6.9;69



Lincoln Roth;13;93;145;5;19;1,526;76



Maxen Hook;13;22;420;7;32.3;19.1;56

Blake Austin;9;20;355;6;39.4;17.8;76

Ryker Large;13;18;289;2;22.2;16.1;51

Brody Luker;13;13;222;2;17.1;17.1;48

Eric Roudebush;13;9;132;2;10.2;14.7;35


Name;G;Tackles;For Loss;Sacks;INT;FF;FR

Aven Jones;13;106;15.5;6.5/32;0;0;3

Maxen Hook;13;80;4.5;1.0/12;2;2;3

Richard Clevenger;13;75;8.5;4.5/27;0;2;1

Kyle King;12;63;16.5;5.0/38;0;2;0

Matt Brown;13;50;10.5;5.0/44;0;0;0

Brody Luker;13;47;0.5;0/0;3;0;0

Kade Large;13;46;2.0;0.5/6;2;0;1