By Andrew Smith
For The Daily Reporter
SHELBYVILLE — The Class 4A No. 1 New Palestine football team’s challenge this week was twofold. One was to prepare for a Shelbyville squad that’s developing as a program.
The other was internal — continue to show sharpness and focus with the Dragons a heavy favorite entering the game.
The Dragons passed both tests, blanking the Golden Bears 56-0 while also playing a crisp game Friday.
“It was nice to come out and play well. The challenge this week was a little bit different. It was us against us this week,” NP coach Kyle Ralph said. “Shelbyville is obviously getting better — they have a win in the conference and they’re showing improvement. But weeks like this, you’ve got to really challenge yourself and stay focused. They did a great job in practice this week and did that. I’m really pleased with that.”
The Dragons are now 7-0 (5-0 HHC). Shelbyville moves to 1-6 (1-4).
The Dragons gained 479 yards of total offense on 41 plays, with senior quarterback Danny Tippit again posting a big day in the passing game, completing 14 of 17 passes for 239 yards and four touchdowns. It marked his fourth consecutive 200-yard passing game. He has thrown for 16 TDs over that four-game stretch.
Junior running back Grayson Thomas ran for 147 yards and three scores, becoming the first back in New Palestine history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He now has 1,033 yards for the season and 3,422 for his career. His performance Friday moved Thomas past Eric Roudebush and Alex Neligh into third place on NP’s career rushing list.
Thomas, like his teammates, had a solid night executing the offense. The Dragons’ varsity unit scored on all eight of its possessions, with only two of the drives needing more than four plays.
“We never underestimate everybody,” Thomas said. “It’s a big week to be about us, work on ourselves, work on conditioning, work on what we have going on and carry that into the following weeks and into the postseason.”
The Dragons hit Shelbyville with a quick blitz, scoring 21 points in 57 seconds in the first quarter. They went 65 yards in seven plays on their first drive, keyed by Thomas’ 23-yard run. That set up Thomas’ 25-yard TD with 7:14 left in the first quarter. Kicker Brendan Tanksley then recovered an on-side kick at midfield. Tippit hit Isaiah Thacker for a 41-yard pass on the first play, setting up a 9-yard TD to Blaine Nunnally.
The first play after a Shelbyville fumble, Tippit and Nunnally hooked up again from 19 yards out, 15 seconds after their first strike. The three scores gave the Dragons a 21-0 lead.
They added on, needing three plays to go 32 yards after a botched punt by Shelbyville. A 16-yard pass to Kyler Kropp set up a 4-yard TD by Thomas to make it 28-0.
Two short fields set up by the Dragons’ punt return team set up three-play drives — one ending in a 24-yard pass to Kropp, the other a 4-yard pass to Ty Mitchell. Eian Roudebush capped off an 82-yard drive late in the half with a 5-yard run. It was set up by a 52-yard pass to freshman Cameron Rollyson.
The Dragons added another score in the third quarter on a 27-yard run by Thomas on first-and-26.
The Dragons’ defense held Shelbyville to 92 total yards. The Golden Bears were led by Axel Conover, who had 32 yards on 13 carries. Shelbyville crossed midfield only once, with its varsity defense recovering a fumble by the Dragons’ reserve offense in the fourth quarter. But the Dragons returned the favor, forcing a turnover and keeping the shutout, marking the Dragons’ second shutout of the season. It’s the fourth consecutive year they have blanked Shelbyville and 10th consecutive victory over the Golden Bears.
The Dragons now prepare for New Castle and the final road game of the regular season. Again, preparation will be key.
“That’s what we do every week,” Ralph said. “It’s no different than when we play Westfield. You come in Saturday, you watch the film, you look at the good, you correct the bad, and then you push the reset button and start over again. That’s the challenge — does the team buy into that process and understand it’s a weekly challenge you have to go through. It doesn’t matter who it is, from Westfield to Decatur (Central) to Yorktown to (Mt. Vernon), from Shelbyville to New Castle. You have to come in, you have to learn, you have to get better, you have to push reset and there’s a new week coming for you on Monday. That’s the fun part about football.”