The New Palestine football team is headed back to the semistate after a 31-7 victory over Harrison in Friday’s regional championship game.
The Dragons used a punishing ground game to pull away from a close contest, as Harrison used a ball-control offense to chew up yardage and clock.
The top-ranked Dragons (12-0) will host No. 3 Michigan City (10-2) in next week’s semistate. Kickoff will be 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 at Kelso Stadium.
Dragon junior Charlie Spegal rushed for 268 yards and four touchdowns, with 163 yards and two scores coming in the final quarter, allowing NP to break open a game that was 17-7 going into the final period. He broke the state rushing touchdowns record with his 63rd TD – breaking the record of 62 set by Warren Central’s Darren Evans in 2006. Spegal has 65 total TDs, one shy of the state record set by Sheridan’s Brett Law in 1988.
Spegal capped an 80-yard drive off the opening kickoff with a 1-yard run to give NP a 7-0 lead. Harrison responded with a mammoth 23-play, 82-yard drive that took 12:09 off the clock and tied the game when Marcel Atisso scored on a four-yard run.
The Dragons fumbled on their next possession, but the Red Rage forced back-to-back three-and-outs. NP responded off both. Spegal capped a 39-yard drive with a 2-yard TD run to put NP up 14-7. Alex Kropp nailed a 30-yard field goal ahead of halftime to extend the lead to 17-7.
In the second half, Harrison again took 9:32 off the clock on the opening drive and drove into NP territory, but a holding penalty and back-to-back sacks by Kyle King forced a punt. NP responded with a nine-play, 87-yard drive that Spegal finished with a 15-yard TD – coming one play after a 27-yard run. After a turnover on downs deep in NP territory, the Dragons took the ball 81 yards in five plays – all runs by Spegal. He had consecutive runs of 21, 21, 26 and 5, tallying 96 yards on the drive as NP had a 15-yard penalty in the interim.
The Dragons ran for 357 yards. In addition to Spegal’s 268, Zach Neligh ran for 91. Neligh also threw for 48 yards – all to Colby Jenkins. NP held Harrison to 184 total yards, including 153 on the ground.
Notes: Spegal now has 2,934 yards this season, 12th-most in state history. He now has 7,277 career yards, moving into sixth-place on the state’s career rushing list. He needs 26 yards to move into the top five. … Spegal has 692 career points, eighth in state history. He passed Winchester’s Kiante Enis Friday. His 392 points this season are third-most, as he passed Evans (372). Law (453) is the state record-holder for single-season points, as well as career points (952). … Jenkins moved past the 1,500 yard receiving mark for his career with 48 yards. He now has 1,505, third-most in NP history. Neligh needs 27 yards to move into fourth place on NP’s career passing list, as he now has 3,255 career passing yards. … The Dragons are in the semistate for the sixth time in school history, joining regional titles won in 1987, 1990, 2013, 2014 and 2015. NP won semistate titles in 1990, 2014 and 2015. … NP is 2-0 all-time in semistate games played at Kelso Stadium, beating Columbus East 30-28 in 2014 and Castle 56-6 in 2015. … Next week will be the first-ever meeting between the Dragons and Michigan City. … NP has now outscored foes 289-0 in the first quarter.
New Palestine (12-0) 7 – 10 – 0 – 14 — 31
Harrison (6-6) 0 – 7 – 0 – 0 — 7
NP-C. Spegal 1 run (Kropp kick), 8:55
H-Atisso 4 run (Pennell kick), 7:56
NP-C.Spegal 2 run (Kropp kick), 2:55
NP-Kropp 30 FG, :02
NP-C.Spegal 15 run (Kropp kick), 11:22
NP-C.Spegal 5 run (Kropp kick), 4:12
First downs: NP 20, H 14
Rushes-yards: NP 41-367, H 52-153
Passing C-A-I: NP 3-4-0, H 2-8-1
Passing yards: NP 48, H 31
Total yards NP 45-415, H 60-184
Penalties-yards: NP 1-15, H 2-15
Fumbles-lost: NP 1-1, H 1-0
Punts-avg: NP 0-0, H 3-41.0
Time of possession: NP 12:06, H 35:54
Rushing: C.Spegal 28-268, Neligh 11-91, team 2-(-2)
Passing: Neligh 3-4-0-48
Receiving: Jenkins 3-48
Rushing: Armstrong 11-70, Dixon 17-42, Atisso 7-31, Jensen 11-14, Coffing 5-5, Smith 1-(-9)
Passing: Jensen 2-8-1-31
Receiving: Smith 1-20, Hassenplug 1-11
(Championship apparel: https://npfootballchamps.itemorder.com/)