Top-ranked Dragons battle No. 2 Royals for regional title


NEW PALESTINE — No. 1 vs. No. 2.

Public vs. Private.

Great football tradition vs. Great football tradition.

Friday’s Class 4A Regional 11 matchup between top-ranked New Palestine and No. 2 Roncalli, at Roncalli High School, has all the makings for the prototypical marquee matchup.

It’ll feature multiple Division-I bound linemen, one of the state’s top running backs and Mr. Football candidates, and a pair of offenses and defenses that have been dominant throughout the season.

“It’s really exciting. Playing football in this round, in general, is exciting because it’s hard to get here,” New Palestine coach Kyle Ralph said. “We’ve told the boys this week it’s hard and uncommon to be No. 1 and it’s hard and uncommon to be No. 2. We are in an incredibly rare situation where No. 1 plays No. 2. To be a part of a game like this is something special. This is what memories are made of here. These are the games that are burned into their memory and the history of the program for a long time.”

The Dragons are unbeaten at 12-0. The Royals are 11-1 with no losses against teams from Indiana. They were defeated 24-23 by Cincinnati Elder on Oct. 7.

New Palestine has won three state titles and has been in five state championship games. Roncalli has won 10 state titles, with the most recent being the 2020 Class 4A crown. New Palestine won back-to-back Class 5A championships in 2018-19.

It’ll be the first meeting between the two schools since 2014, the Dragons last appearance in Class 4A. The Dragons beat Roncalli 44-13 in the regional round of the state tournament. They went on to win their first state title that season.

Both teams are stout up front. New Palestine boasts senior left tackle Luke Burgess (6-7, 291), headed to Louisville, and junior right tackle Ian Moore (6-6, 290), who has committed to Ohio State. Roncalli has a talented offensive line led by Trevor Lauck (6-7, 290), who has committed to play at Iowa. Roncalli’s Luke Skartvedt (6-4, 285) has committed to Northern Illinois.

Lauck and Skartvedt have helped pave the way for the state’s top rusher, a Mr. Football candidate, Luke Hansen. He’s rushed for 2,681 yards this season and 31 touchdowns. He’s had three 300-plus yards rushing games and has had at least 120 yards in every game. He had 335 yards and five touchdowns in a season-opening win over Southport.

“He’s the state’s leading rusher and one of the top rushers in America, as far as yardage is concerned. It’s a huge challenge,” Ralph said on containing Hansen. “You’re going against the most productive runner in the state and he has a really good offensive line in front of him. There are massive challenges that come with something like that.”

The New Palestine offense has been more balanced. Senior quarterback Daniel Tippit IV has thrown for 2,437 yards — fifth most in school history — and 32 touchdowns – fourth most in school history. He’s thrown only one interception.

Ball State commit Isaiah Thacker has 822 receiving yards, eighth most in a Dragon season. Receiver Blaine Nunnally has 12 touchdown receptions and 705 receiving yards.

For the second straight week, and for as long as they play in the tournament, the Dragons will be without all-state caliber running back Grayson Thomas, who was injured in the sectional semifinal game against Greenfield-Central. He had over 1,500 yards and 26 touchdowns in 11 games.

Behind that big New Pal line, backup Kyler Kropp has rushed for 261 yards and four touchdowns in the last two contests.

“I think this is probably one of the more unique games that you’ll see in Indiana High School football where I think a lot of fans will be watching the offensive and defensive line play on both sides and not so much the football and skill players,” said Ralph, noting the talent both teams have up front. “That’s kind of weird, but pretty cool. There are some very talented young men on both sides of the ball on both of these teams up front. It’s pretty rare that you’re going to likely see a collection of this many future Division I players in the trenches.”

The Dragons have the No. 1 scoring offense in Class 4A at 45.33 points per game. Roncalli has the No.3 scoring defense at 10.5 points per contest. The Royals offense and Dragons defense are ranked high, too. Roncalli’s offense is No. 10 at 34.75 points, while the Dragons defense is No. 5 at 11.17 points.

They have one of the state’s most productive defensive linemen in sophomore Michael Thacker, who has 31.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks this season. He’s received offers from both Tennessee and Ball State.

“We’ve been fortunate to be in some of these games where we’re No. 1 or No. 2 and we’re playing someone who is first, second or third,” Ralph added. “You find out what you’re made of as a program. It’s such a great measuring stick for your kids and your coaches. While it’s a tremendous challenge, it’s also a really special moment for all of these boys that are involved in it.”

The winner of Friday’s game advances to the state semifinals against the survivor of the matchup between No. 4 East Central (10-2) and No. 11 Evansville Memorial (9-3).