Rubber match

As potent an offense as New Palestine had last season, the Dragons have been even more prolific this year.

New Palestine, which scored a state-record 851 points (56.7 a game) on its way to the Class 4A state title in 2014, is on pace to break that record if it advances to this year’s 5A state title game. The Dragons are averaging 66.4 points, while giving up only 10.7.

But New Palestine coach Kyle Ralph, whose top-ranked team (10-0) will visit No. 2 Columbus East (11-0) in tonight’s sectional final, doesn’t like to compare last year’s Dragons team to this year’s squad.

“We have different kids with different skill sets and new kids in new positions,” Ralph said. “Our goal is just to be the best team we can in 2015.”

One player who does return in the same position for New Palestine is senior quarterback Alex Neligh. Neligh has thrown for 1,857 yards and run for 1,517 more. He has 26 touchdowns running and 26 passing, leaving him with 99 total touchdowns for his career.

Senior Nick Brickens has run for 1,228 yards and 17 scores. Seniors Logan Greene and Duke Blackwell have combined for 60 catches, 1,128 yards and 17 touchdowns receiving.

“We think that they’re going to pass as efficiently as anybody we’ve seen, but they want to run the football,” East coach Bob Gaddis said. “They’re going to make you defend the run, and if you put too many guys in the box, they’re going to throw it. You have to be able to mix up some different looks and hopefully slow them down a little bit.”

Neligh usually lines up in a shotgun formation with one back and four receivers.

“Our hope is to not allow them big plays,” Gaddis said. “We’ve seen on tape where they’ve had big play after big play offensively. We have to make them earn their yardage.”

The Olympians haven’t been bad themselves, putting up 43.8 points a game and allowing 14.3. Senior Steven O’Neal, who took over for record-setting Mr. Football Markell Jones, has run for 1,685 yards and 22 touchdowns.

“They really don’t seem to have skipped a beat,” Ralph said. “It’s pretty incredible as far as the program that coach Gaddis continues to turn out. They keep refilling players. The tailback this year is not as big and powerful as Markell, but he’s really fast, he’s very explosive, he has great vision.”

Sophomore quarterback Josh Major, who stepped in for injured returning starter K.J. McCarter at the beginning of the season, has completed 78 percent of his passes for 1,277 yards and 16 touchdowns.

“Here’s a young quarterback filling in and doing a phenomenal job,” Ralph said. “That kid’s a tremendous player. The offensive line and defensive line filled in those gaps with tremendous football players that have continued to have success game in and game out.”

Ralph is 38-1 in his three years as coach at New Palestine. His only loss was a 49-14 setback at East in the 2013 semistate.

The Dragons avenged that loss last season when they edged the Olympians 30-28 on a last-second field goal by Spencer Corey. Corey has set a state record this year by going 88-of-88 on extra points.

“I actually heard a quote the other day that emotion is what gets you through the short term and gets you started, but passion keeps you going,” Ralph said. “The emotion got our offseason going that year, but the passion our kids had to play the game of football and play for each other is what got us through the 2014 football season.”

Ralph thinks the Olympians may have felt those same emotions this year.

“That loss probably charged them up,” Ralph said. “But these are two new teams this year. For us, and I’m sure for them, it’s just another football game that you try to find a way to win. The more emotion you get tied up into it, the more mistakes you’re going to make.”

At a glance

NEW PALESTINE (10-0);;COLUMBUS EAST (11-0)

at Lawrenceburg;W 56-14;at Bloomington North;W 27-0

Richmond;W 72-7;Columbus North;W 28-21

at Yorktown;W 63-7;at Seymour;W 69-12

Mt. Vernon;W 59-7;at Jennings County;W 33-0

Pendleton Heights (at LOS);W 84-17;New Albany;W 54-20

at Greenfield-Central;W 77-20;Floyd Central;W 49-13

Shelbyville;W 45-0;at Madison;W 40-7

New Castle;W 72-0;at Jeffersonville;W 42-21

at Delta;W 66-29;Bedford North Lawrence;W 56-21

Sectional

Bye;;at Franklin;56-28

Martinsville;W 70-6;Whiteland;W 28-14

Probable starters

NEW PALESTINE

Offense

QB: Alex Neligh

RB: Nick Brickens

SE: Brett Luker

SE: Logan Greene

Slot: Duke Blackwell

Slot: Brady Walden

LT: Nick Derheimer

RT: Austin Keele

LG: David Judy

RG: Matt Moeller

C: Andrew Yazel

Defense

DE: Jordan Workman

DE: Demetre Mitchell

DT: Thaddeus Muse

OLB: Luke Ely

OLB: James Crumlin

MLB: Joe Izbicki

CB: Brady Walden

CB: Logan Greene

S: Brett Luker

S: Adam Kincaid

FS: Nick Brickens

Special teams

K: Spencer Corey

P: Nick Brickens

COLUMBUS EAST

Offense

QB: Josh Major

RB: Steven O’Neal

WR: Cam Wilson

WR: Caleb Voelker

TE: Rhett Myers

TE: Tyler Thomas

LT: Jared Clark

RT: Coy Park

LG: Aaron Kruchten

RG: Sean Galligar

C: Harry Crider

Defense

DE: Rhett Myers

DE: Josiah Edwards

DT: Aaron Kruchten

DT: Coy Park

OLB: T.C. O’Neal

OLB: Nick Cull

MLB: Sam Dwenger

CB: Noah Wichman

CB: Zach Springhorn

S: Wade Forman

S: Ethan Summa

Special teams

K: Sam Thomasson

P: Josh Major

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.