For the 19th time in the last 37 seasons, the Dragon football team will play for a sectional championship Friday.
The Dragons host Franklin at 7 p.m. at Kelso Stadium.
The Dragons are seeking their 11th sectional title. They’re 10-8 in championship games, including 4-1 under the tutelage of head coach Kyle Ralph.
NP enters the game the defending 5A state champion, with a 10-0 mark and the No. 1 ranking. Franklin is enjoying its first winning season in 23 years and is eyeing its first sectional title since 1984.
No. 10/9 Franklin Grizzly Cubs (8-2, 5-2 Mid-State)
at No. 1/1 New Palestine Dragons (10-0, 7-0 Hoosier Heritage)
- Time: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8
- Site: Kelso Stadium, New Palestine
- Admission: $6 (PLEASE NOTE: This is an IHSAA event. New Palestine all-sports passes, season tickets and HHC passes WILL NOT be accepted).
SETTING THE SCENE
The Dragons and Grizzly Cubs meet for the first time in the state tournament with a sectional championship on the line. The Dragons are competing in a sectional championship game for the sixth time in Coach Kyle Ralph’s seven seasons, and the 19th time in their history. NP is 10-8 in sectional title games and 4-1 under Coach Ralph. Franklin is appearing in a sectional final for the first time since 2006. The Grizzly Cubs have won one sectional in their history, in 1984, the final year before the all-in tournament.
The winner of this game faces either Cathedral or defending state runner-up Decatur Central in next week’s regional. If NP wins, it would host Cathedral but visit Decatur Central. If Franklin wins, it would host regardless of opponent next week.
The Dragons’ Red Rage defense was dominant during last week’s victory over Whiteland. NP held the Warriors to just 94 rushing yards and didn’t allow Whiteland to snap the ball inside the 30. It keyed NP’s 21-point fourth quarter, as all three of the Dragons’ late scores came off defensive plays. Maxen Hook thwarted a Whiteland drive with an interception. Kyle King followed with a fourth-down sack, and then Ryker Large picked off a pass. Charlie Spegal capped off each ensuing drive with a touchdown.
LB Aven Jones had 13 tackles – one shy of his career high – and a sack in last week’s contest.
Spegal broke another IHSAA career record last week, when he broke the 30-year-old state scoring record he shared with Brett Law of 952 points. With four TDs, Spegal now has 976 career points. He also has 9,903 career rushing yards and 162 total touchdowns, all state records. He needs 97 yards and four touchdowns to become the first player in IHSAA history with 10,000 rushing yards and 1,000 career points.
Spegal’s 242-yard game last week was his 25th career 200-yard game, including his sixth this season. His season high is 288 yards against Greenfield-Central. He rushed for 146 yards in the second half to help the Dragons put the game away.
Junior WR Blake Austin scored his first career rushing TD last week with a 41-yard run for the Dragons’ first touchdown. Austin also has six receiving TDs this week.
QB Lincoln Roth completed five passes to four different receivers last week. NP has completed passes to at least four different receivers in nine of the 10 games this year. Hook (374 yards), Austin (319) and Ryker Large (256) all have 16 catches each. They lead the Dragons in receiving yards.
The Dragons lead the state in scoring (52.5) and victory margin (44.5). NP is first in Class 5A and seventh in the state in scoring defense (8.0). The Dragons also lead Class 5A in rushing offense (310.8) and total offense (443.9).
SCOUTING THE GRIZZLY CUBS
Franklin is one of the state’s top offensive teams, tallying 40.7 points per contest, third best in Class 5A and 20th in the state. The Grizzly Cubs topped the 60-point mark three times and have scored 40-plus points in six of their 10 games. The team has clinched its first winning season since 1996.
Franklin ranks second in Class 5A in total offense (421.8) and fourth in passing yards (168.9).
QB Drew Byerly ranks third in Class 5A in passing yards at 168.6 per game. He threw for 177 yards and three TDs and ran for 103 and two TDs in last week’s 42-0 win over Seymour. Byerly has thrown for 1,686 yards and run for 1,151 this season.
Junior Jalen Ward ran for 82 yards last week. He has 1,205 rushing yards this year.
Like NP’s Kyle Ralph, Franklin head coach Chris Coll has a state championship ring as a head coach, leading Tri-West to the Class 3A state title in 2014. Coll was also an assistant coach on Mark Haste’s staff for three other titles at TW in 1996, 2003 and 2004.
All New Palestine games are broadcast on NewPalRadio.com. NPHS Athletics is on Facebook (NewPalestineDragons), Twitter (@NPHSDragons) and online (NewPalestineAthletics.com).