High School Sports
New Palestine eyes big challenge, opportunity against Center Grove
While eye-popping scores and stats have been the norm at New Palestine during coach Kyle Ralph’s six-year tenure, halftime reports from last Friday’s opener against Kokomo left many mouths agape across the state.
The Dragons exploded for a remarkable 70 first-half points in a 77-0 victory versus last season’s 5A runner-up.
“We obviously played very well,” Ralph said. “Kokomo struggled and we got a lot of short fields. Offensively we were tremendously efficient and the scoreboard turned over very fast. It was a perfect storm in our favor, I suppose.”
Transfer running back Charlie Spegal debuted with 18 carries for 222 yards and seven touchdowns in two quarters of work. The experienced offensive line of Austin Keele, Kyle King, Alex Cotterman, Noah Mack and Jacob Brittsan opened plenty of lanes.
“Charlie did a great job, and the offensive line was really clicking,” Ralph said. “We talk to our running backs about winning the one-on-one battles with the guys the line might not get to, and he certainly did that.”
It’s hard to be more efficient than the 9-of-10 for 172 yards and a TD posted by dual-threat quarterback Zach Neligh. Standout wide receiver Colby Jenkins hauled in a TD, and tight end Matt Brown tallied five catches for 126 yards.
“Zach knows our system much better than he did last year. He’s become a master of it, which is critically important,” Ralph said. “There were balls he chose not to throw, that could’ve been bad choices, and 365 days ago, I don’t think he would’ve made some of those decisions.”
The defense also shined Friday night, as it held Kokomo to 54 yards in the decisive first half.
New starter Tyler Horsley impressed at nose guard.
“He’s a great program kid who’s worked his butt off to get here,” Ralph said.
Linebackers Luke Ely and CJ Faubion have played since they were freshmen. Luke Canfield – a 1,700-yard rusher a year ago, who’ll see time on offense – had an interception Friday at cornerback, as did fellow DB Brody Luker. They’re joined in the secondary by proven playmakers Maxen Hook, Ryker Large and Kade Large.
This week provides perhaps the most anticipated regular-season match-up in program history, as Class 6A No. 9 Center Grove (enrollment 2,500) pays a visit to New Pal (enrollment 1,119). The Dragons want to prove themselves against a premier big-class program, one that’ll come in hungry after last week’s 21-15 loss to top-ranked Warren Central.
“Excitement from the community and everyone around here is at an all-time high this week. There’s no other way to say it,” said Ralph, who at 61-4, has never lost a regular-season game at New Pal. “We’ve played some great teams in the regular season before, but there’s just something different when you say the name, ‘Center Grove,’ because everyone in Indiana and many around the Midwest know what that name means.
“Because of what we’ve done the last few years, people forget we’re not some huge school, we just happen to be really successful. People are pumped up. They want to see if we can hang, and for our kids, this is what you work for."