HANCOCK COUNTY — Before getting to the Class 4A Sectional 22 title game, you have to win a pseudo Hancock County tournament.
Class 4A No. 1 New Palestine passed the first test by beating upset-minded rival, and defending state champion, Mt. Vernon 35-24 in last week’s sectional opener.
Another upset-minded neighbor awaits.
New Palestine (10-0) will play host to Greenfield-Central (7-3) tonight at Kelso Stadium with both looking to extend their season into the month of November.
The winner will play the survivor of tonight’s other semifinal game between Connersville (6-4) and New Castle (3-7).
The Cougars beat a neighbor, just outside county limits, Pendleton Heights, 34-28 in their sectional opener.
“The football in our county has been speaking for itself lately,” New Palestine coach Kyle Ralph said. “We’ve been gone in 5A, because of the success factor. (Mt. Vernon) wins 4A last year and have been extremely competitive before that. I think Greenfield could have probably done some damage last year if it doesn’t have to play the eventual state champion (early in the tournament).
“When you look at the three big schools (in our county), if we haven’t had to sit here and keep beating each other, there might even be more overall success across the board. Our county’s football has spoken very well for itself and that we play really good football here … A county this size, and I know we knock each other out so often, but you’d be hard-pressed to find more tournament success in a small area in the state … We’re all very successful.”
At one time during the regular season all three schools were ranked in Class 4A’s Top 10, both in the Associated Press and Indiana Football Coaches Association polls.
After tonight there will be only one remaining.
New Palestine handled an injury-riddled Greenfield-Central team 42-7 in a Week 6 regular season matchup.
The Cougars have some of those players back, including sophomore quarterback Dallas Freeman and running back Andrew Zellers, who was injured early in the New Pal game. Linebacker Brodie Mayberry is back, but since that game, they’ve been playing without a couple of other key skill players, Owen Anderson and Brayden Herrell.
Greenfield-Central coach Travis Nolting knows his club will have its work cut out to knock off a very talented New Palestine team.
In the first meeting, New Palestine quarterback Daniel Tippit IV tied a school record by throwing five touchdown passes. Four different players had TD catches and running back Grayson Thomas rushed for 158 yards and a score. The Dragon defense held the Cougars to only seven first downs. Special teams, led by Eli Hook, blocked two punts.
“They’re a very good program, well-coached and they’ve got some dudes,” Nolting said. “We’ve got to play a flawless game. I’ve told the kids that all week. We have to come out and execute, not turn the ball over and take time off the clock. It does help to have your quarterback back and things of that nature.”
New Palestine has won the last 12 meetings. The last time Greenfield-Central won was the last time the two teams met in the postseason. In 2010, after New Palestine had beaten Greenfield-Central 32-0 during the season, the Cougars won 7-0 in the second round of the sectional tournament.