NEW PALESTINE – Columbus East football coach Bob Gaddis did all he could to ice New Palestine sophomore Spencer Corey with one second left in Friday night’s semistate battle of heavyweights.
Unfortunately for the Olympians, Corey wasn’t fazed. He drilled a 25-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Dragons to a 30-28 victory and a berth in the Class 4A state title game.
“This is what we worked for,” New Palestine coach Kyle Ralph said. “We put our kids in horrible situations in conditioning, in the weight room, in practice. We go hard at them so these things seem easy. We practice these things all the time and put them in a situation where the kicker’s getting frozen, and the kicker has to go on and take a last-second kick.”
The second-ranked Dragons (14-0) will play New Prairie, a 28-10 winner against Northridge in Friday’s northern semistate, at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium. East finishes its season 13-1.
The Olympians, who saw a 28-game winning streak come to an end, looked like they would make their second consecutive trip to the state final when they took a 28-14 lead into the fourth quarter. But New Palestine scored 16 unanswered points to steal the victory.
The Dragons cut the lead to 28-21 when quarterback Alex Neligh scored on a 2-yard keeper with 10:08 remaining. James Young then scored on a 23-yard run with 6:48 left, but Adam Barton, who had kicked the first three extra points, missed, leaving the score 28-27.
East faced a fourth-and-1 at its own 40 and was going to go for the first down. But a false start penalty set the Olympians back five yards, and they had to punt.
“We were going to go for it because they had so much momentum going,” Gaddis said.
New Pal took over at its own 26 with 4:07 remaining and needed 11 plays to march to the East 8-yard-line. Ralph let the clock run down to one second before calling a timeout. Then, after two more timeouts by East, Corey nailed the game-winner.
“We don’t have to kick field goals very often, but all of our field goals this year were kicked by Spencer, so he’s had plenty of practice at it,” Ralph said.
The Olympians built a 21-7 halftime lead, thanks to a couple of big plays. K.J. McCarter hit a streaking Cam Wilson for an 81-yard touchdown for the game’s first score. Then, after the Dragons tied it, McCarter ran 29 yards for a touchdown and hit Karson Kamman for a 5-yard score.
East appeared to catch a big break when it stopped New Pal on the 1-yard line as the first half ended. But the Dragons weren’t done.
“I told the kids in the locker room at halftime if we just stick together as a family, we’ll get this thing done, and this is going to be the greatest win in the history of this school,” Ralph said.
New Pal caught a break early in the second half when Adam Kincaid recovered a fumble in the end zone. East’s Markell Jones then scored on a 1-yard run, and the Olympians led 28-14 late in the third quarter.
Jones, who broke the state’s single-season rushing record in last week’s regional win against Evansville Reitz, was held to a season-low 153 yards on 34 carries.
“They had a good game plan,” Jones said. “I feel like I let us down. I feel bad for those guys.”
“That’s really what we worked the whole offseason for — to be strong enough to stop a big, physical back like him,” Ralph said. “We played some, but no one near his caliber. I know he got his yards tonight, but we really shut him down incredibly effectively, and that was huge for us — to not let him gash us for massive amounts of yards, and to make him churn it out two or three (yards) at a time.”
McCarter added 76 yards on six carries and completed 8 of 11 passes for 154 yards and two scores. Neligh carried 20 times for 107 yards for the Dragons, while Young added 79 yards on 23 carries.
“I know they’re a two-platoon team, and we’re not, but I think we wore them down, and at the end of the game our physical resolve came through,” Ralph said. “For our offensive line to be able to move them around, our running backs to wear them down and run physical like that was absolutely tremendous against a team of that caliber, that strength, that conditioning. To be able to play a third and fourth quarter that well and that physically dominant was huge.”
“We tell our guys in a game like this, a few plays are going to determine the outcome,” Gaddis said. “You just don’t know when they’re going to happen. They made some big plays; we made some big plays, and they just made a couple more than we did in the second half.
New Pal’s win avenged a 49-14 semistate loss at East last season. Neither team had played a close game this year until Friday.
“What a great game,” Gaddis said. “I think our kids played their hearts out. They played really well. Kicking a field goal with no time on the clock, we knew it was going to be two good football teams, and it was going to come down to the end. Too bad that either team had to lose.”
“We fought as a team,” Jones said. “We just didn’t come out with a win. It was a good season.”