The New Palestine football team will play in a sectional championship game for the seventh time in eight years when it travels to Whiteland for a 7 p.m. Friday kickoff.
Both teams enter the game with identical 8-1 records and top-5 rankings. The Dragons enter No. 5 in both polls, while Whiteland is No. 4.
- (5A #5/5) New Palestine Dragons (8-1, 6-1 HHC) vs. (5A #4/4) Whiteland Warriors (8-1, 5-1 Mid-State)
- Time: 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 6
- Location: James Sleighter Field, Whiteland
- Tickets: Not available for public sale
SETTING THE SCENE
This game features a matchup of two Class 5A top-five programs as the No. 5 Dragons face No. 4 Whiteland in the Sectional 14 final. This contest marks the second consecutive year the teams have met in the sectional. Last year, NP scored 21 fourth-quarter points to pull away to a 35-7 victory.
NP is 9-7 all-time against Whiteland, including 4-0 under coach Kyle Ralph. This is the sixth tournament meeting, with NP holding a 3-2 edge in the postseason. The teams met in the regular season from 2005-13 and again in 2016-17.
The Dragons have won 11 sectional championships in their history and are playing in their 20th sectional title game tonight, including the seventh in eight years under Ralph. NP has won five sectional titles in Ralph’s tenure – in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019. Whiteland is seeking its first sectional title since 2014.
The Dragons mounted a comeback for the ages last Friday in a 31-27 victory over Franklin. With 2:44 to go in the third quarter, NP fell behind 27-3, then scored four touchdowns in the last 13 minutes to win the game. In those last five drives, QB Lincoln Roth was 6-11 for 260 yards, with five competions going for at least 35 yards. WR Blake Austin had four catches for 183 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown pass. The other three receptions were for 35, 37 and 44 yards. TE Matt Brown reeled in a 68-yard reception in the final minute to set up Grayson Thomas’ 2-yard game-winning touchdown with 17 seconds left.
Roth was 14-26 for 341 yards last week, the third-highest passing total in school history. Austin’s 230-yard game was the second-highest receiving total in school history.
Last week’s comeback from 24 points down marked the largest come-from-behind victory of the Kyle Ralph era. The previous largest deficit overcome in a win was 14 points, coming in the 30-28 victory over Columbus East in the 2014 semistate.
The Dragons finished the regular season 7-1 and clinched their 11th top-two finish in the HHC in the last 12 seasons with a 28-21 victory over Delta Oct. 16. The Dragons are 71-7 in the HHC the last 12 years, and 54-1 the last eight seasons.
NP is 26-4 in the state tournament under Coach Ralph, including 16-3 in Class 5A. NP has competed in Class 5A since 2015 due to the IHSAA Tournament Success Factor. The Dragons are a Class 4A school by enrollment.
Austin moved up to fourth on the all-time receiving list last week. He has 1,284 career yards. Roth is now sixth on the all-time passing list. He needs 69 yards to reach 3,000 for his career.
Thomas is the first NP freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He has 1,056 rushing yards.
The Red Rage defense has not allowed a point in the fourth quarter this year. NP has outscored its opponents 57-0 in the final 12 minutes. NP has allowed the second-fewest points per game in Class 5A, allowing 12.0 ppg.
Senior DB Jack Johnson has been Mr. Turnover in the last three games. He has four takeaways, including three fourth-quarter interceptions.
SCOUTING THE WARRIORS
Whiteland is in the midst of its best season since 2008, when the Warriors won their first 10 games. Their only blemish was a Week 3 loss to Decatur Central. The Warriors have found success with a bruising running game that averages 384.3 yards per game on the ground and 429.7 yards total. Senior Chase Valentine leads the Warriors with 1,656 rushing yards. He tallied a career-high 369 yards in the regular season finale vs. Plainfield. Dalton Murray (440 yards), Joe Crowley (340 yards) also lead the running game.
At 39.2 ppg, Whiteland has the third-highest scoring offense in Class 5A. The Warriors allow 13.8 ppg, the sixth-fewest in Class 5A.
The winner of this game will play Cathedral or Decatur Central in next week’s regional. If the Dragons win, they would host Cathedral but travel to Decatur Central.
All New Palestine games are broadcast on NewPalRadio.com. NPHS Athletics is on Facebook (NewPalestineDragons), Twitter (@NPHSDragons) and online (NewPalestineAthletics.com).