WHITELAND — In Friday’s Class 5A Sectional 14 championship game, New Palestine found itself in a similar dilemma it faced in the previous week’s semifinal game.
The Dragons were able to rally from a 27-3 late third-quarter deficit a week ago in a remarkable 31-27 come-from-behind victory over Franklin.
In the title game, against No. 4 Whiteland on Friday, the fifth-ranked two-time defending state champs made too many mistakes to overcome in a 48-13 loss.
“Sometimes in life you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail,” New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph said. “I want to thank our seniors for what they’ve done to guide this program through a tough year.”
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The loss put an end to a long impressive Dragon playoff run. The two-time defending Class 5A champions had won 11 straight playoff games.
On Friday, they were going for a third straight sectional title and 12th in school history. It was the seventh time in the last eight years the Dragons had played for a sectional crown. They won five during that span.
Whiteland came in as a much stronger opponent than last week’s foe, Franklin. The Warriors improved to 9-1 and took advantage of New Palestine mistakes.
The Dragons lost two first-half fumbles and gave up a pick-6 in the third quarter.
The interception return by Whiteland’s Kayden Welling was for 45 yards and it gave the Warriors a 34-0 lead with 5:03 remaining in the period.
“You can’t do the things we did tonight and expect to win the game. It’s that simple,” Ralph said.
The Dragons got on the board with a 3-yard touchdown run from senior quarterback Lincoln Roth with 1:41 remaining in the third quarter. Roth hooked up with his favorite target, senior Blake Austin, for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 2:16 left in the game.
“It’s extremely disappointing (to have the season end Friday),” Austin said. “The way this program’s run, the expectation is to always make a (post season) run. Unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
The Dragons graduated the majority of starters on both sides of the ball from their state title team. Playing up a class for the sixth straight season because of their ample success on the field, New Palestine ran into the numbers game a bit in 2020 as injuries piled up throughout the year for the program with the smallest enrollment of all Class 5A teams.
“I’m very proud of them. It’s been a tough year. We got this far, not to the program’s standard, but every year’s different,” Ralph said. “You’ve got to feel good what our seniors got done this year.”
The Dragons finished 8-2, were runners-up in the Hoosier Heritage Conference, as well as in Class 5A Sectional 14.
“I just love this team,” Austin said. “We stuck together and worked as hard as possible through every possible obstacle. I can’t say enough what this program means to me. It’s pretty much shaped me into the person I am today.”
Whiteland scored on its first three possessions. The Warriors opened scoring with a nine-play, 48-yard drive. Quarterback Brant Kunz scored on a 4-yard keeper. The first of three straight Chris Dawalt point-afters was good to give Whiteland a 7-0 lead with 6:57 left in the opening quarter.
The hosts followed it up with a quicker trip, needing just two plays to go 62 yards. Running back Chase Valentine went 22 yards from the Whiteland 38. Jonathan Crowley took the next handoff 40 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 Whiteland lead with 2:00 left in first period.
Whiteland was set up well for its third score. New Palestine fumbled the ensuing kickoff from the second score and the Warriors recovered. It was the first of two first-half lost fumbles by the Dragons.
The Warriors needed six plays to go 22 yards. Valentine got the points this time, scoring on a 3-yard run with 11:11 left until intermission.
Whiteland only threw the ball one time the entire half. Its first 31 offensive plays were runs. The lone pass, with time running out in the half, fell incomplete.
Like its first half a week ago against Franklin, New Palestine was unable to get much going in the first two periods.
A first-quarter possession reached the Whiteland 38, but the Dragons lost the ball on downs. Late in the first half, hoping to get some points on the board before the break, Dragon freshman running back Grayson Thomas got inside the Warrior 35, but fumbled and Whiteland recovered.
Unofficially, Thomas rushed for 52 yards on 15 carries. Roth completed 10-of-19 passes for 76 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Austin had six grabs for 44 yards.
On their way to last year’s state title, New Palestine opened tournament play with a 35-7 win over Whiteland in a sectional semifinal game.
The sectional title for Whiteland was its first since 2014.
Valentine had 27 carries for 160 yards.
Whiteland will take on Indianapolis Cathedral next week in one of four Class 5A regionals.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Scoreline” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Whiteland 48, New Palestine 13
W – Brant Kunz 4 yd run (Chris Dawalt kick) 6:57
W – Jonathan Crowley 40 yd run (Dawalt kick) 2:00
W – Chase Valentine 3 yd run (Dawalt kick) 11:11
W – Valentine 3 yd run (kick failed) 5:43
W – Kayden Welling 45 yd interception return (Dawalt kick) 5:03
NP – Lincoln Roth 3 yd run (Brandon Tanksley kick), 1:41
W – Dalton DeBaun 48 yd pass from Kunz (Dawalt kick) 11:53
W – Maxwell Sullivan 7 yd pass from Kunz (Dawalt kick) 6:16
NP – Blake Austin 25 yd pass from Roth (kick failed), 2:16