The New Palestine football team returns to the semistate for the sixth time in 11 seasons Friday, as the No. 3 Dragons take on No. 1 East Central.
4A #3/3 New Palestine Dragons (11-2, 7-0 HHC) at 4A #1/1 East Central Trojans (13-0, 3-0 EIAC)
Time: 7 p.m. Friday
Location: East Central HS, St. Leon (directions: https://maps.app.goo.gl/9saTuEBr4d6HKW8A6)
Tickets; $12, online at https://public.eventlink.com/tickets?t=58882
Audio: NewPalRadio.com (coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Video: IHSAAtv.org (PPV. Note: this is NOT the NewPalRadio.com simulcast)
SETTING THE SCENE
For the eighth time in school history and the first in four years, the Dragons are competing in a semistate with a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium on the line. This matchup features the two highest-ranked 4A teams remaining, as the Dragons visit defending state champion East Central.
Both of these programs have rich pedigrees - each has won three state championships. East Central coach Jake Meiners has led the Trojans to a pair of titles, in 2017 and 2022. NP coach Kyle Ralph has led the Dragons to championships in 2014, 2018 and 2019.
This is the first-ever meeting between the Dragons and Trojans. The Dragons have played two EIAC schools in Coach Ralph’s tenure, beating Connersville 43-14 in the 2022 sectional final and Lawrenceburg 56-14 in the 2015 season opener.
The Dragons are 5-2 all-time in semistate games, including 4-1 under Coach Ralph.
This is the Dragons’ sixth game against a team in the Top 10 at game time.
The Red Rage defense remains dominant, and was so again last week against a high-powered Mooresville offense, holding the Pioneers to two field goals. In the last seven weeks, the first-unit defense has allowed just two touchdowns and 20 total points. The Dragons have outscored opponents 179-13 in the tournament, and the defense has scored more points (14) than it has allowed (12) in that span.
The Dragons forced four takeaways last week and have had seven in the last two weeks. Brady Armstrong had an interception for his third takeaway - two picks and a fumble recovery - in the last two weeks. Desmond Palmer also had an INT, while Michael Thacker and Mason Oglesby recovered fumbles.
The Dragons have 12 takeaways and are plus-11 in turnover ratio during the four state tournament games. They are plus-9 for the season.
In the last seven games, the Red Rage is allowing 126.1 yards per game, including 38.7 yards per game on the ground. Mooresville’s 202 total yards last week were the most allowed by the Dragons since Week 6. The Dragons are gaining 370.9 yards per game in that stretch, 270 on the ground, outscoring teams by an average of 41-5.
Senior RB Grayson Thomas tied his career high with five rushing touchdowns last week. He had 137 yards on 29 carries and now has 6,157 yards for his career, second-most in school history to Charlie Spegal, the state’s all-time rushing leader. With 2,259 yards this season, he is second in Class 4A in rushing to EC’s Josh Ringer.
Thomas has 33 rushing touchdowns this season, tying him for fifth on the school’s single-season list. His 92 career rushing TDs are second to Spegal’s 123.
WR Kyler Kropp is the Dragons’ Swiss Army knife, and he moved into fifth place in career receptions (83) and yards (1,359) last week. He had 32 yards receiving, breaking a string of four games with 100-plus yards from scrimmage. This season, he has 1,275 yards and 19 touchdowns from scrimmage.
The Dragons are sixth in Class 4A in scoring offense (38.8), ninth in scoring defense (15.3) and sixth in victory margin (23.5).
SCOUTING THE TROJANS
The Trojans lead Class 4A in scoring offense (49.9), defense (6.4) and victory margin (43.5). They have shut out six opponents this season and have allowed only two teams - Cincinnati Moeller and Martinsville - to break double digits.
RB Josh Ringer leads Class 4A with 2,512 yards. He averages 11.2 yards per carry and has scored 50 touchdowns. The Trojans average 416 yards per game, including 309 on the ground. QB Cole Burton completes 69% of his passes for 101 yards per game. He has thrown for 21 TDs. His top target is Ryan Brotherton (756 yards, 14 TDs). Ringer ran for 214 yards and 5 TDs last week at Evansville Memorial. He had a season-high 325 yards against Martinsville in the sectional and has five 200-yard games.
Tonight’s winner will head to Lucas Oil Stadium for the Class 4A State Finals and face either No. 9 Leo or NorthWood. Both teams in the north semistate are 11-2.
All New Palestine games are broadcast free-to-listen at NewPalRadio.com. All home games are also video streamed at IHSAAtv.org on a pay-per-view basis.
NPHS Athletics is on Facebook and Instagram (@NewPalestineDragons), Twitter (@NPHSDragons) and online (NewPalestineAthletics.com).
Photo credit: Aaron Smith