The New Palestine football team celebrated its tradition Friday night at Kelso Stadium – making part the 50th homecoming festivities a celebration of a half-century of Dragon football.
With hundreds of alumni watching from the south end zone, the current Dragons gave them an evening to enjoy, as they used a 35-point second quarter to pull away to a 66-21 victory over Shelbyville.
Luke Canfield tied a school record with five rushing touchdowns, while quarterback Zach Neligh totaled 435 yards of total offense and four scores, helping the Dragons pull away from an explosive Golden Bear squad.
The second-ranked Dragons are now 7-0 on the season and 5-0 in HHC play headed into next week’s Senior Night game against New Castle. The victory put NP in the driver’s seat in the conference, with a one-game lead over Pendleton Heights – which NP has already beaten – and a two-game lead over third-place Shelbyville and New Castle.
Neligh threw for a career-high 268 yards and three scores, and ran for 170 and a score. He hooked up with two different receivers on the two longest pass plays of the year for the Dragons – a 52-yard pass to Colby Jenkins to open the scoring and a 60-yard aerial to J.T. Hoffman to add an exclamation point. Jenkins had five catches for 100 yards to lead the passing game.
The Dragon defense took control early, forcing two punts on the Golden Bears’ first two drives. In-between, the Dragons drove 90 yards to the Shelbyville 3, but the drive was stopped on downs.
From there, the offense seized control, scoring on 10 of its next 11 possessions, starting with a 52-yard pass from Neligh to Jenkins that put the Dragons on the board. Shelbyville answered seconds later with a 62-yard pass to Damon Lux to tie the game, but the Dragons again responded. A seven-play, 75-yard march was capped with Neligh’s 12-yard TD run that put NP up 14-7. Two more short drives ended with Canfield TDs to extend the edge to 28-7. Shelbyville again answered with a touchdown pass to slice the edge.
But the Dragons’ quick strike offense put the game away right before halftime. After a short punt, Neligh and Jenkins hooked up for a 14-yard TD pass with 2:17 left. The Red Rage forced a three-and-out, and Jenkins followed with a 65-yard punt return that set up Canfield’s third TD of the night 39 seconds later.
NP’s response was even stronger in the second half after a Golden Bear TD on the opening drive. A 46-yard pass to Maxen Hook set up Canfield’s fourth TD of the night. Luke Ely blocked a punt, setting up a 29-yard field goal by Alex Kropp. J.T. Hoffman then had a quick turnaround, with an interception and then a 60-yard TD reception two plays later.
Canfield capped the scoring with a five-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter for his fifth score of the night. He finished with 70 yards on 16 carries. It was the first five-TD game for a Dragon since DuRon Ford scored five touchdowns against Pendleton Heights in 2016.
Kicker Alex Kropp also had a career-high day, going 9-for-9 on extra points and hitting a 29-yard field goal.
Notes: The Dragons’ victory was their ninth straight homecoming win, dating back to 2008. It was also the 43rd straight regular-season victory and 32nd straight HHC win. … The Dragons had a four-second scoring drive late in the first quarter, the shortest drive of the year. … NP’s two touchdowns in 39 seconds late in the first quarter were the fastest two TDs of the season. The previous two fastest scores were 1:07 apart at Yorktown. … The 66 points were the most since a 70-20 win over Shelbyville in 2016 … Canfield’s 5 TDs were the most since DuRon Ford against Pendleton Heights in 2016. … The 35-point second quarter was the first 30-point quarter since the Dragons tallied 35 in a 66-29 victory over Delta in 2015. … Zach Neligh’s 238-yard passing game was a career high. His previous high was 200 yards in Week 3 at Yorktown. … Maxen Hook had his second interception of the year, as did J.T. Hoffman. The Dragons were +2 in the turnover ratio and are now +14 for the season.
Shelbyville (5-2, 3-2) 7 – 7 – 7 – 0 — 21
New Palestine (7-0, 5-0) 7 -35-24- 7 — 66
NP-Jenkins 52 pass from Neligh (Kropp kick), 2:44
S-Lux 62 pass from Watson (Luciano kick), 1:49
NP-Neligh 12 run (Kropp kick), 11:53
NP-Canfield 1 run (Kropp kick), 9:34
NP-Canfield 8 run (Kropp kick), 7:09
S-Lux 30 pass from Watson (Luciano kick), 6:20
NP-Jenkins 14 pass from Neligh (Kropp kick), 2:17
NP-Canfield 7 run (Kropp kick), 1:38
S-Reed 13 pass from Watson (Luciano kick), 8:55
NP-Canfield 1 run (Kropp kick), 6:29
NP-Kropp 29 FG, 2:07
NP-Hoffman 60 pass from Neligh (Kropp kick), 1:15
NP-Canfield 5 run (Kropp kick), 11:20
First downs: S 12, NP 22
Rushes-yards: S 29-60; NP 42-262
Passing C-A-I: S 15-30-2; NP 11-23-0
Passing yards: S 239, NP 263
Total yards: S 59-299, NP 65-525
Fumbles-lost: S 2-1, NP 2-1
Penalties-yards: S 7-78, NP 9-60
Rushing: Lux 10-55, McKenney 12-16, Lewis 1-6, Watson 6-(-17)
Passing: Watson 15-30-2-239
Receiving: Lux 5-104, Lewis 6-93, Reed 2-28, Stevens 2-14
Rushing: Neligh 21-170, Canfield 16-70, Jenkins 2-22, Jones 1-3, Roudebush 2-(-3)
Passing: Neligh 11-23-0-268
Receiving: Jenkins 5-100, Hoffman 2-68, Manes 2-41, Hook 1-46, K.Large 1-8