NEW PALESTINE – There’s a difference between creating tradition and being a one-hit wonder.
Kyle Ralph knows that very well
He played his high school football at and then coached for consistent power St. Xavier in Cincinnati. In his second stop of his coaching career it was the same situation at Withrow University High School in Southwest Ohio.
So when Ralph took his first ever head coaching job at New Palestine in 2013 he was inheriting a program that had its brief peaks but no constant history of success. In the previous 19 seasons before he arrived, the Dragons only made it to the Regional three times and each were losses.
“We’ve talked a lot since I’ve been here, a lot this offseason especially about taking this program to the next level and beginning to establish it as an actual program,” said Ralph. “We don’t want to be known as a ‘One-and-Done’ type team. Last year was great-and our goal was to improve upon that.”
The Dragons can to that very literally on Friday night when they face the same situation as they did almost a year ago. Just like in 2013 New Palestine enters their Class 4A Semi State game with an undefeated record and will face another perfect team-Columbus East-for the right to play in the state championship.
Last year was historic for the Dragons but it ended with a dud in Columbus as the Olympians won it 49-14 en route to a state championship. Back for another try, Ralph’s team will get the shot to see how much they’ve grown over the course of a year.
“They’re the measuring stick being the state champions from last year,” said Ralph of Columbus East. “They’re the team everybody wants to be able to beat. If you’re going to win this thing, you’ve got to be able to beat them and compete with them.”
If it makes the Dragons feel more confident, few have been able to compete with themselves in an impressive 2014 campaign. Only one team-Mount Vernon-was able to stay within 28 points of New Palestine as they’ve torn off 13 consecutive wins since August. The average margin of victory for the Dragons is 57-6 and that’s only gone up in the playoffs.
Led by quarterback Alex Neligh and receiver Garrett Kuhn along with a strong supporting cast New Palestine has averaged 65 points a game in the Class 4A playoffs. Against Beech Grove in the Sectional Championship they put up an incredible 83 points in a commanding victory before scoring a more pedestrian 44 in a 31-point win over Roncalli in the Regional.
“They say defense is the best offense. Our defense gets us the ball back with good field position, short drives and our O-line is buying in to what we do,” said Kuhn when asked about the offensive numbers.
Columbus East can boost just as impressive stats as they’ve outscored opponents 55-9 on the average through 13 games. Like New Palestine the Olympians have an 82-point output in a playoff game (Sectional Opener vs South Dearborn) and last week they got 42 points in the first half in a dominating Regional win over Evansville Reitz.
All six of those first half touchdowns were scored by running back Markell Jones who is enjoying perhaps the finest season by a rusher in IHSAA history. Against Reitz he rushed for over 300 years and brought his season-total to a state-record 3,379 yards along with 59 rushing touchdowns-two short of the IHSAA record.
“Tackle him low. He’s a strong, physical kid. He’s got great vision, runs hard. You’ve got to be able to get his legs and tie him up somehow and stop those legs from churning because once you let him get a head of steam going he’s really tough to bring to the ground,” said Ralph of Jones. “So we’ve got to be excellent as far as our tackling technique is concerned.”
If they can, than New Palestine’s place in the elite of high school football might be here to stay.