By Andrew Smith

For The Daily Reporter

NEW PALESTINE — From the kickoff, the New Palestine football team was in control Friday night against Pendleton Heights.

Kyler Kropp ran the opening kickoff back 89 yards for a touchdown, then punctuated the next drive with a 9-yard run, sending the Dragons on their way to a 34-14 victory over Pendleton Heights.

Grayson Thomas ran for 191 yards and a score to highlight what was an uneven performance for the Dragons despite controlling the game throughout the evening.

The Dragons led 20-0 at halftime and extended it when the defense forced a three-and-out and Thomas took the first snap up the middle for a 56-yard touchdown, but they struggled to move the ball after that, gaining two first downs. Brady Armstrong added a 50-yard interception return for a score — one of three picks by the Dragons in the game — to punctuate a strong defensive performance.

“We were up 20 at the half and finish up 20,” NP coach Kyle Ralph said. “That was a poor second half. We had a pick-6 and a big run, but we literally did nothing between those two plays for 24 minutes. “For a team that’s supposed to be getting better, we took a major step back in the last 24 minutes.”

The Dragons’ second-half struggles were noted on their second drive of the half with a 27-point lead. After Thomas carried for six yards on first down, three straight pre-snap penalties put them behind the chains and forced a punt. On the ensuing drive, a bad punt snap set PH up at the 11, where the Arabians scored their first TD of the game.

Meanwhile, the Dragons’ defense was making plays, as Armstrong picked off a pass and took it to the house from midfield with 10:40 to go, and Mason Hiatt ended the next PH drive with his third pick in as many weeks. Alex Guhl had another interception on the Arabians’ final play of the first half.

Guhl’s pick set up Jake Wells’ second long field goal of the night, a 44-yarder before halftime to extend the lead to 20-0. He earlier hit a 43-yarder on the Dragons’ previous possession. The Dragons scored on four of their first five offensive possessions. After Kropp’s opening kickoff return, NP forced a punt and drove 83 yards, converting 3rd-and-12 on a 14-yard run by Thomas. They also converted 2nd-and-15 on a 34-yard pass to Micah Clark — who wrestled the ball away from a PH defender for the catch — and Kropp scored from nine yards out on third-and-8.

The Dragons’ defense held PH to 178 total yards, including 66 in the first half.

“Once we get a big push on defense, our energy just starts flying,” Hiatt said. “Everyone starts playing well together, we bounce off each other and make good plays.”

Besides’ Thomas 191 yards — giving him 971 for the season and leaving him 29 yards shy of becoming the first Dragon to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive years — NP struggled to find offense. Neal completed 4-of-8 passes for 56 yards, attempting just two passes after halftime. He and Kropp combined for 24 rushing yards on 11 carries.

Isaac Wilson led PH with 35 rushing yards and 63 passing yards, 49 of which went to Caden Sims.

The Dragons improved to 3-2 overall and 3-0 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference. They next play Friday at HHC co-leader Greenfield-Central, with conference championship implications riding on the contest.

New Palestine 34, Pendleton Heights 14

Pendleton Heights (3-2, 1-2);0;0;7;7;-;14

New Palestine (3-2, 3-0);14;6;7;7;-;34

Scoring Summary

1st Quarter

NP – Kyler Kropp 89 kickoff return (Jake Wells kick), 11:47

NP – Kropp 9 run (Wells kick), 6:24

2nd Quarter

NP – Wells 43 FG, 5:03

NP – Wells 44 FG, :00

3rd Quarter

NP – Grayson Thomas 56 run (Wells kick), 10:28

PH – Nate DeRolf 11 pass from Colton Frank (Dominic Apo kick), 1:22

4th Quarter

NP – Brady Armstrong 50 interception return (Wells kick), 10:40

PH – Caden Sims 16 pass from Isaac Wilson (Apo kick), 6:13