The New Palestine football team is headed to the IHSAA State Finals for the third time in five seasons after clinching a 35-10 victory over No. 3 Michigan City in Saturday’s Class 5A semistate.
Michigan City took a 10-7 lead after the first quarter – the first time top-ranked NP had trailed in a game all season – but NP responded with 28 consecutive points to seal the victory.
Charlie Spegal ran for 193 yards and three touchdowns, giving him 68 for the year, breaking Brett Law’s 30-year-old state record for TDs in a season. Zach Neligh threw for 150 yards – including a 76-yard TD to Ryker Large – and ran for 62 in the victory. Maxen Hook and Brody Luker had two interceptions each.
The Dragons will face No. 2 Decatur Central at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24 in the state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Hook started the game with a huge defensive play, intercepting a pass on MC’s second play from scrimmage and taking it 47 yards for a TD to give the Dragons a 7-0 lead.
It kept the Dragons in the game despite having 2 yards of offense in the opening quarter and three-and-outs on their first three drives.
The Wolves responded with two long drives – a 13-play, 5:12 drive that ended in Riley Shreve’s 21-yard field goal, and a 49-yard drive that Lyric McFerrin capped with a 1-yard TD run. It was keyed by a 46-yard pass from quarterback Bryce Hayman to Demetrius Garrett that Garrett tipped to himself and reeled in.
MC drove the ball to the NP 21 on its fourth drive, but the Dragons held on downs to keep it a one-score game early in the second, and then took the lead.
On third-and-7, Neligh found Large wide open on a deep pass down the right sideline for a 73-yard touchdown to give NP the lead back. The Dragons extended the lead after holding on downs at their own 35. Spegal capped an 11-play, 65-yard drive with a 15-yard run to extend the lead to 21-10.
MC executed the two-minute drill perfectly with two big plays. MC’s Zennon Wilhelm got free on a screen pass and darted through the Dragon defense in the closing seconds, but Jacob Hockett made a diving shoestring tackle to save a touchdown. Shreve was wide left on a 30-yard attempt on the next play, leaving the Dragons up two scores going into the break.
NP took control after halftime, with Luker and Hook intercepting passes on MC’s first two drives. Spegal extended the lead to 28-10 with an 11-yard TD run. Another INT by Luker set up a two-play, 85-yard drive that finished it. Neligh took it 35 yards on the first play, and Spegal broke the next for 50 and a score to ice it.
The Dragons outgained MC 413-387, including 269-99 after the break as NP seized control and paved the road back to Lucas Oil Stadium. The Dragons are making their fourth trip overall. NP won a state title in 2014 and was runner-up in 1990 and 2015.
Notes: NP will be seeking the eighth state title in school history next week. The softball team has won five (2004, 2007, 2008, 2017, 2018), while baseball (2004) and football (2014) have won one each. It will be the 12th appearance in a state championship game. NP has state runners-up in softball (2003), baseball (2003) and football (1990, 2015). … Seniors Luke Ely and Austin Keele will be starting their second State Finals contests, as they were starters when NP faced Fort Wayne Snider in the 2015 5A final. … Spegal now has 3,134 yards for the season, moving up to sixth on the state’s single-season rushing list. His 68 TDs broke Law’s record of 66 set for Sheridan in 1988. Spegal’s 66 rushing TDs extend his state record. Spegal ranks third in NFHS history in both categories. He is two rushing TDs and three total TDs shy of the national record. … With 7,473 career yards, Spegal moved into fourth on the IHSAA rushing list. He needs 87 yards to move into third place and is 637 shy of the state record. … Neligh broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark for second consecutive season. … His 154-yard passing game moved Neligh into third place on the NPHS career passing list with 3,406 yards. He passed both Connor Simmons and Blake Luker in Saturday’s game … Hook and Luker each had two interceptions. The four picks were a season-high. Luker leads the team with six for the season. They were the first two-interception games since Ryker Large against Mt. Vernon on Sept. 8, 2017. … With a plus-4 margin, the Dragons are now plus-27 in turnovers (33 takeaways, six giveaways). … Next week’s meeting will be the first on the gridiron between the Dragons and Decatur Central. The two teams will begin a regular-season series in 2020. … The 10 points allowed in the first quarter were the first given up by NP this season, as well as the first time the Dragons trailed in a game. NP has now outscored teams 296-10 in the first quarter and 761-118 overall this season. The 761 points are third-most in school history. The school record – also a state record – is 854, set in 2015. … The Dragons have 6,407 yards of total offense this season, the third-most in school history, trailing only the 2015 team (state-record 7,701) and 2014 (6,635).
Michigan City (10-3) 10 – 0 – 0 – 0 — 10
New Palestine (13-0) 7 – 14 – 7 – 7 — 35
NP-Hook 47 interception return (Kropp kick), 10:27
MC-Shreve 21 FG, 5:15
MC-McFerrin 1 run (Shreve kick), 1:47
NP-R.Large 73 pass from Neligh (Kropp kick), 9:02
NP-C.Spegal 15 run (Kropp kick), 3:47
NP-C.Spegal 11 run (Kropp kick), 7:33
NP-C.Spegal 50 run (Kropp kick), 4:57
First downs: MC 16, NP 14
Rushes-yards: MC 43-195, NP 45-259
Passing C-A-I: MC 10-24-4, NP 7-16-0
Passing yards: MC 190, NP 154
Total plays-yards: MV 67-385, NP 61-413
Penalties-yards: MC 5-25, NP 3-28
Punts-yards: MC 3-39.3, NP 4-32.0
Fumbles-lost: MC 0-0, NP 2-0
Time of possession: MC 22:10, NP 25:50
Rushing: McFerrin 30-130, Hayman 12-64, Siegmund 1-1
Passing: Hayman 10-24-4-188
Receiving: Wilhelm 5-92, Garrett 3-75, Siegmund 2-23
Rushing: C.Spegal 23-189, Neligh 22-70
Passing: Neligh 7-16-0-154
Receiving: Jenkins 5-70, R.Large 1-76, Austin 1-8