By Andrew Smith
For The Daily Reporter
YORKTOWN — In the final minute of the first half, Yorktown found itself knocking on the door with an opportunity to score and tie New Palestine going into the break.
Facing an avalanche of momentum and a red-hot quarterback, the Dragons’ defense stiffened, forced three straight incompletions and a Kolton Nanko field goal.
Three passes to Blaine Nunnally later, the Dragons themselves had driven into Tiger territory and set Brendan Tanksley up for a career-long 47-yard field goal, which he nailed at the first-half horn.
That swing gave the Class 4A No. 1 Dragons some breathing room, and they seized that and the momentum to steamroll Yorktown in the third quarter, en route to a 50-13 road victory.
The Dragons reverted to old form — the quick strike, scoring four touchdowns in a 4:39 span in the third quarter, punctuated by three consecutive interceptions, to turn a 17-10 halftime edge into a 43-10 advantage.
“For Tanks to pull up from 47 and hammer that thing was massive as far as momentum,” Dragons coach Kyle Ralph said. “We had a pretty intense halftime because we were not playing Dragon football the way we’re supposed to. That’s on me. We’ve got to come out better prepared. That was big for Tanks to give us a spark going into halftime, got the lead back to seven. We came out and played very spirited football in the second half.”
The Dragons improved to 3-0 on the season and 1-0 in HHC play. Yorktown moved to 2-1 and 0-1 in the conference.
Leading 17-10, the Dragons forced a punt on Yorktown’s first possession, then rode Grayson Thomas on a 91-yard drive. He carried six times for 59 yards on the possession, capping it with a one-yard TD run with 5:16 left.
Then, the scoreboard began spinning like a slot machine. Michael Thacker sacked Yorktown quarterback Mason Moulton on first down. On the next play, pressure forced a bad pass, which A.J. Reierson picked off and took 10 yards for a score to put the Dragons up 30-10. Three snaps later, pressure forced another interception — this time by Daniel Thacker. It led to an 18-yard touchdown pass from Danny Tippit to Eli Hook to push the lead to 36-10. Another pick by Blaine Nunnally set up Tippit for an eight-yard TD run with 37 seconds left in the third quarter.
After a blocked punt by Mason Hiatt and Hook, the Dragons used the short field to set Thomas up for his second TD of the night early in the fourth to extend the lead to 50-10..
“We did not make one single adjustment,” Ralph said of halftime. “It was simply about playing Dragon football, playing as a team, not playing as individuals. I told them down here, every team we’ve had has had one of those reality check moments. This tonight was our wake-up call. I think the message was very well received based on how we played in the second half. Hopefully, that becomes a springboard for us going forward.”
The Dragons gained 182 points in 31 plays in the first half. They gained 177 in just 18 snaps, scoring four TDs, in the second half.
Thomas ran for 116 yards and two scores on 16 carries, while the Dragons amassed 173 rushing yards as a team. They completed 16-of-23 passes for 186 yards – with Tippit throwing for 165 and Eian Roudebush 21.
Yorktown road Moulton’s arm. Making his first start of the year after missing the first two games with an injury, he was 17-of-28 in the first half, completing nine passes for 112 yards to Kolton Nanko. He was 24-of-47 for the game for 253 yards.
With the Dragons leading 14-0 in the second quarter, Moulton completed four to Nanko for 69 yards on a drive that ended at the 1-yard line. But the Tigers forced a three-and-out and Moulton hit Blair Webster for a TD to cut the lead to 14-7. After a fumble, the Tigers drove to the Dragons’ 10, but stalled before Nanko’s field goal in the final minute of the half.
The Dragons got off to a strong start, with Isaiah Thacker’s 45-yard kickoff return setting up a short 24-yard drive, which Tippit finished with a one-yard TD run. But the Dragons turned the ball over on downs at midfield twice before a 66-yard pass to Ty Mitchell set up a six-yard TD to Kyler Kropp to push the lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter, before Yorktown gained momentum and began cutting into the lead.
“Their quarterback was back,” Ralph said. “He’s a very talented kid. It’s hard to replicate what we can do. He’s hard to take down. He’s tall and can make some of those throws over the middle. In high school football, you don’t defend the middle very often because most teams don’t throw it there, but he can and they did. We stuck with it. We played fairly well in that regard, but it was definitely nice to get some turnovers there as the game went on.”
The Dragons now turn their eyes to next week’s game at Mt. Vernon, with the Boundary Rail and the HHC’s Helmet trophy on the line.
“We expect our kids to compete at a very high level,” Ralph said. “With the Helmet and Rail on the line, with the conference lead on the line on the road, that’s a big game. I think a little bit of our problem tonight was we maybe were taking a peek ahead to a game we can’t play. We can only play Yorktown tonight — we can’t play Fortville. Now that the opportunity is here, I’m excited to see what our kids do with it.”