NEW PALESTINE — With multiple fourth down stops, two interceptions, and a forced and recovered fumble, New Palestine’s defense was making true the old adage that defenses win championships.

On Friday night at Kelso Stadium, led by the group known as The Red Rage, New Palestine won the school’s eighth football regional title and first since 2019 with a 39-6 victory over Mooresville.

New Palestine (11-2), ranked No. 3 in the final Class 4A poll, will travel to No. 1 and defending state champion East Central (13-0) in the South Semi-State next Friday at 7 p.m. The winner will play for the Class 4A state title the following week. East Central beat Evansville Memorial 47-7 Friday.

In four playoff football games the Dragons first-team defense has yet to give up a touchdown. On Friday, the Pioneers points came on a pair of field goals.

“It was a bit of a different plan for us and the kids did really well with it,” New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph said of his defense’s task to stop Mooresville dual-threat quarterback Hogan Denny. “(Defensive coordinator) Scott McMurray had a great plan. We just kept hanging with it. We put great pressure on them when we could. The boys executed and did a nice job. (The defense) honestly kept us in the game because our offense was not good for about three quarters.”

Denny came in with over 2,300 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. On the ground he’d rushed for 16 scores and nearly 1,400 yards. On Friday, he completed just 10 of 31 passes for 82 yards and had two interceptions. He rushed eight times for seven yards.

“The big key was to contain (Denny) and make sure he didn’t get outside of us and if he did we had backup,” New Palestine defensive lineman Michael Thacker said.

The Red Rage did its job while New Palestine’s offense was having its own struggle with Mooresville’s defense.

The 39-6 final is a bit deceiving. It was 12-6 to open the fourth quarter before the Dragons exploded for 27 points.

Grayson Thomas had five touchdowns and rushed, unofficially, for 148 yards on 27 carries.

“(Our defense’s performance) was huge,” Thomas said. “When we’re still figuring out the defensive schemes on offense, we really needed those guys to play with consistency like they did. They always come up when we need them.”

At 12-6 in the third quarter, Mooresville was driving and in the midst of a near seven-minute drive when New Palestine’s defense stopped the Pioneers on fourth down.

Mooresville got to the New Pal 22, but a false start and incomplete pass on fourth down gave the ball to the Dragons.

Thomas finished the ensuing drive with the third of his five rushing touchdowns, but the possession was kept alive by the Dragons biggest pass play of the game.

On third-and-12 from the New Pal 28, sophomore quarterback Gavin Neal found senior wide receiver Ty Mitchell for a 33-yard gainer.

“It was a play we practiced all week, and it really wasn’t supposed to go to Ty, but Gavin read it well.” Ralph said. “Ty got open and he kept running his route across the field the way he is supposed to do. … Ty went across the field, (receiver) Kyler (Kropp) broke out to the sideline to get near the first down, but (Mooresville) covered it well.

“When that happened, Ty drew the one-on-one coverage and Gavin found him late over the middle. It was a great throw, good read, and great job by Ty of continuing his route and running it deep.”

It gave the Dragons a first-down and momentum heading into the final quarter.

Thomas was stuffed on a third-and-one from the Mooresville 30, but he went for nine yards on the fourth-and-short play to put the ball on the Mooresville 21. The senior running back went for 20 on the next hand-off and scored from the 1-yard line to give New Palestine an 18-6 lead with 11:10 to go in the game.

Mooresville botched an attempted trick play on the ensuing kickoff and New Palestine recovered the ball on the Mooresville 10. Two plays later Thomas had his fourth touchdown and the rout was on.

“We didn’t want to start like how we did and we knew we had to produce a big second half,” Thomas said. “We needed to put up a lot of numbers. There was a sense of urgency for the whole team going back out (after halftime). We really just needed to deliver and I’m really grateful that we did.”

Thomas’s fourth-quarter touchdowns came on 1-, 6-, and 1- yard scores. He had 4-yard and 33-yard touchdown runs in the first half. Reserve running back Malachi Haines had a 51-yard fourth-quarter touchdown.

“It felt amazing,” New Palestine All-American lineman Ian Moore said of New Palestine’s four fourth-quarter rushing touchdowns. “One time I was driving my dude down about 10-15 yards and I just see Grayson fly right by me. I thought the whistle was going to blow, but I see him run right past me and I was like, ‘wow!’ That means we’re picking guys up.”

Senior safety Brady Armstrong had an interception to end Mooresville’s second possession of the game.

Leading up to Thomas’s 33-yard score, New Palestine frosh Mason Oglesby forced a Denny fumble, recovered by Thacker.

The longest scoring play of the game came with just 43 seconds left in the first half and gave New Palestine a 12-3 lead.

With the Dragons up 32-6, defensive back Desmond Palmer had an interception.

Along with being the program’s eighth regional championship, it was the sixth regional crown in Ralph’s 11 years as head coach.

“I say two things, I love my players and all the players that have played for me that have done such a great job here over the years …,” the coach said of capturing another regional title. “And No. 2, it never gets old, and it never will.”

New Palestine 39, Mooresville 6

New Palestine (11-2);0;12;0;27;-;39

Mooresville (7-6);3;3;0;0;-;6

Scoring Summary

1st Quarter

M – Tyler Church 24 FG, 3:16

2nd Quarter

NP – Grayson Thomas 4 run (PAT blocked) 8:33

NP – Thomas 33 run (pass failed) :43.1

M – Church 39 FG, :00

4th Quarter

NP – Thomas 1 run (pass failed) 11:10

NP – Thomas 6 run (Jake Wells kick) 10:29

NP – Thomas 1 run (Wells kick) 6:23

NP – Malachi Haines 51 run (Wells kick) 3:16