NEW PALESTINE — For the New Palestine football team, Friday’s homecoming game against Shelbyville was one of efficiency and one of rewards.
The Dragons were efficient — scoring on all seven of their offensive possessions in a 49-7 victory over visiting Shelbyville.
Mason Hiatt and Malachi Haines scored their first career touchdowns for the Dragons, while Grayson Thomas ran for 108 yards and three scores. Sophomore quarterback Gavin Neal was pinpoint accurate in a 221-yard passing day. He completed 9 of his 10 passes and also ran for two scores.
“I was glad to see our program take another step forward tonight,” Dragons coach Kyle Ralph said. “There are some things we’ve got to clean up, but we had a great week of practice. The kids were focused, they prepared the right way. On paper, it looks like we’re a huge favorite but our kids didn’t behave that way. That’s what’s really important right now, is they keep showing up with a businesslike attitude and they keep doing their job every week.”
The Dragons improved to 5-2 with the victory and 5-0 in the HHC. They can clinch a piece of their ninth conference title in 11 years with a victory next week on Senior Night against New Castle.
The Dragons were dominant on both sides of the ball against an improved Shelbyville squad, outgaining the Golden Bears 417-127. Shelbyville had six first downs, four came on its touchdown drive, which came against NP’s second-string defense.
NP took little time getting started, recovering an on-side kick to begin the game and marching 48 yards in six plays, capping it with Thomas’ first TD from 8 yards out. He had a 23-yard run earlier in the possession. NP then went 62 yards in four plays on its next drive, starting it with a 49-yard pass to Kyler Kropp before Neal punched it in from a yard out. After a second straight Shelbyville three-and-out, the Dragons dialed up a nine-play drive, which Thomas finished with a 3-yard run to put the Dragons up 21-0 after a quarter.
Shelbyville gained two first downs in the second quarter, but each of its first four drives ended in punts. NP extended the lead to 28-0 on a 47-yard pass to Kropp, setting up Neal’s second 1-yard plunge of the day. After another punt, a 32-yard pass to Ty Mitchell set up a 19-yard TD pass from Neal to Mason Hiatt, giving the Dragons a 35-point lead going into halftime and starting the running clock.
In the second half, Thomas capped off the first drive with a 6-yard run. On the next possession, Malachi Haines finished a drive with a 10-yard run for his first career score.
“That was Mason Hiatt’s first career touchdown. A lot of the coaches said ‘there’s no way.’ He’s played an unbelievable amount of football but he’s two-thirds of the way through his senior year and he had never crossed the goal line,” Ralph said. “You never heard him whine about it. He just shows up, does his job. If his number’s called, he answers. Tonight, he got paid off for that. It was an awesome moment.
“Malachi never says ‘coach, when am I going to get my carries?’ He shows up, he works hard. We got a chance to pay him off tonight. That’s the kind of stuff I’m proud of. Our guys are so unselfish It’s not about them and their stats. It’s about what’s on the scoreboard at the end of the game. It’s nice to see those guys get paid off.”
While the Dragons won their 15th straight homecoming game and won for the 11th consecutive time against the Golden Bears, Ralph sees significant improvement in the team under first-year coach Scott Fitzgerald. Shelbyville is now 3-4 (1-4 HHC).
“Shelbyville’s done a great job this year,” Ralph said. “They’re in a rebuild, we’re in a bit of reload even though it doesn’t maybe seem that way. It’s two programs on different planes right now. I gave both (coach Scott Fitzgerald and assistant coach Pat Parks) a nice hug after the game. They’re doing things the right way. Their kids play really hard. They’ve got things going in the right direction. It’s just going to take some time. I remember our great battles with Shelbyville early in my time here. They were always in the Top 10 pretty much every year. I’ve got confidence they’re going to get back to that.”
New Palestine 49, Shelbyville 7
Shelbyville (3-4, 1-4);0;0;0;7;-;7
New Palestine (5-2, 5-0);21;14;7;7;-;49
NP – Grayson Thomas 8 run (Jake Wells kick), 9:46
NP – Gavin Neal 1 run (Wells kick), 6:50
NP – Thomas 3 run (Wells kick), :34
NP – Neal 1 run (Wells kick), 8:28
NP – Mason Hiatt 19 pass from Neal (Wells kick), 1:32
NP – Thomas 6 run (Wells kick), 4:00
S – Donavon Martin 4 run (Aiden Heifer-Vazquez kick), 4:00
NP – Malachi Haines 10 run (Cole Christopher kick), :36