The New Palestine football team was resilient from the opening whistle Friday night in a rainy sectional semifinal game at Zionsville.
The Dragons overcame an early fumble, responding by forcing a turnover of their own. They built an early two-touchdown lead, then answered every Zionsville score in the second half with a TD of their own to beat the host Eagles 29-17 in the Class 5A Sectional 12 semifinal.
NP will play for the sectional championship next Friday, Nov. 2, against Anderson (3-7) at Kelso Stadium.
“1-0 feels real good right now,” NP coach Kyle Ralph said. “I’m so proud of our kids. We were playing so many guys both ways tonight to maximize what we do, to put our best athletes on the field and limit their Division I kids to really a lot of minimal gains, made them move the chains. That’s a game you want to be a part of. That’s a game you’re not going to forget.”
NP junior running back Charlie Spegal ran for 138 yards and four touchdowns, while quarterback Zach Neligh ran for 118 yards and threw for 135 in the victory. Spegal capped back-to-back drives with 1-yard plunges to give NP an early lead.
The Dragons led 16-7 going into halftime – the host Eagles answered NP’s second TD with a 16-play, 64-yard march that ended in a fourth-down TD run by Garrett Williamson, but a bad snap on a Zionsville punt resulted in a safety, giving NP a two-score edge at the break, setting the tone for the second half.
Zionsville used its running game effectively to drive inside the Dragons’ 30 on three consecutive drives. Eagle freshman Colin Price ran for 169 yards on 25 carries – including 115 after halftime. A 32-yard pass to Joel DeCoursey set Zionsville up on the Dragons’ 10 on the first possession of the second half, but NP held the Eagles to a field goal.
The Dragons then responded with a 30-yard run by Neligh on the next play, setting up an 80-yard march capped by Spegal’s 7-yard run that put NP up 22-10. NP then stopped Zionsville on downs inside the 20 on the next possession, but the Dragons had to punt it back. Price punctuated the ensuing drive with a 5-yard TD to cut the lead to 22-17 with 8:27 left before NP responded again.
Ryker Large put an exclamation point on the victory. NP was looking to answer an Eagle score for the second time in the half, and NP had driven the ball to midfield thanks to a 14-yard run by Spegal. Neligh found Large in traffic, who made a catch at the Eagles’ 29 and held on after taking a big hit. It led to Spegal’s fourth TD of the night, a 1-yard run, which gave NP a 29-17 lead.
NP held the Eagles to 319 yards on 62 plays, and only one went for more than 25 yards. NP gained 390 yards of offense, with 255 coming on the ground.
Notes: The Dragons will be seeking their 10th sectional championship in program history next week, and their first since 2015. NP has won sectional titles in 1987, 1989-90, 2004-05, 2009 and 2013-15. … Spegal’s four TDs give him 53 touchdowns and 320 points for the season, the seventh-most points in IHSAA history in a single season. He moved up nine places during Friday’s game. Sheridan’s Brett Law holds the state record with 453 points in 1988. … Spegal moved into 12th place on the state career rushing yards list with 6,645. He needs 40 yards to move into 11th. … Neligh ran for 100 and threw for 100 for the second time this season. He became the second Dragon to pass the 5,000-yard mark in career total offense.
New Palestine (10-0) 14 – 2 – 6 – 7 — 29
Zionsville (6-5) 0 – 7 – 3- 7 — 17
NP-C.Spegal 1 run (Kropp kick), 3:34
NP-C.Spegal 1 run (Kropp kick), :13
Z-Williamson 1 run (Freeman kick), 5:59
NP-Safety, ball fumbled out of end zone, 2:03
Z-Freeman 30 FG, 8:06
NP-C.Spegal 7 run (pass failed), 5:12
Z-Price 5 run (Freeman kick), 8:27
NP-C.Spegal 1 run (Kropp kick), 4:30
First downs: NP 16, Z 14
Rushes-yards: NP 49-255, Z 39-189
Passing C-A-I: NP 11-15-0, Z 15-24-1
Passing yards: NP 135, Z 115
Total yards: NP 64-290, Z 62-319
Fumbles-lost: NP 3-1, Z 1-0
Penalties-yards: NP 4-55, Z 8-67
Rushing: C.Spegal 26-138, Neligh 22-118, team 1-(-1)
Passing: Neligh 11-15-0-135
Receiving: R.Large 3-43, Jenkins 3-15, C.Spegal 2-18, Austin 1-33, Roudebush 1-19, K.Large 1-10
Rushing: Price 25-169, Baumgartner 4-13, Williamson 4-12, Fossett 3-12, Wagner 2-(-2), team 2-(17)
Passing: Wagner 15-24-1-115
Receiving: Fossett 5-37, Hull 3-29, Price 3-6, DeCoursey 2-37