INDIANAPOLIS – Just before receiving the first medals ever handed out to their football program for a state title, Alex Neligh had to take one more look at the scoreboard.
Right next to a Dragon icon it read “77.”
Yes Alex, it’s real.
“It’s unbelievable,” said the New Palestine quarterback after a few happy shrugs of his head. “I can’t believe how much our offense came out and executed.”
Some might not have been surprised if the score were about 20 points less. After all the Dragons’ offense has averaged around 56 points a game all season-even putting up 80 on an opponent during their run through the Class 4A playoffs.
Scoring 11 touchdowns in a state finals game would be a bit more unbelievable-but for New Palestine it was enjoyably historic.
Playing in their first championship game in football in 24 years the Dragons earned their first state championship in the sport with a record-breaking display in a 77-42 win over New Prairie Friday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium. Their point output broke the IHSAA mark for points in a championship game-besting Jimtown’s 63 in the Class 2A title game in 1997.
Many of those points came early when Kyle Ralph’s team scored on all but one possession and put up 49 first half points which turned the final 24 minutes into a victory lap for the team along with thousands of fans that showed up in red to support them.
"It definitely raises the bar," said running back James Young of the victory and the season for the program, which has a combined record of 28-1 the past two years. "For years the come the expectation is to get to state."
The 2014 edition of New Palestine football has left a pretty high standard to top thanks to a dominating performance right from the get go. Garrett Kuhn's 83-yard kickoff return set up a short touchdown throw from Neligh to Noah Grable to start off the game.
After New Prairie tied it with a touchdown of their own the Dragons ran off four-straight scores. Neligh ran one in, Young broke a 98-yard run for another and then Duke Blackwell caught a pair of touchdowns to push the score to 42-7. The Cougars broke it up with a touchdown run by quarterback Nick Brassell but New Palestine responded with another Blackwell scoring reception and then a Neligh sprint to paydirt to make it 49-14.
In the final 30 minutes the Dragons would add four more touchdowns by four different players to cement the historic romp. For the game New Palestine gained 673 yards of offense including 462 on the ground led by Young's 285 yards on 17 carries. Neligh added 178 to that total with three rushing touchdowns and five through the air while completing all but two of his 15 passes.
"I'm just glad there's a lower number next to it," said Ralph jokingly when asked about the 77 on the scoreboard. "Offensively my hats off to those guys they did just an unreal job executing."
It completes what many might consider an unreal transformation of a program from the middle of the pack to one of the state's best. Just two years earlier the Dragons were 3-7 under an interim coach and now they are a state champion with a significant record under their belts.
"It's amazing to come out and finish like we did and not be cut short like we did last year," said Neligh-who is just a junior. " It's just an amazing cap to a perfect season with all my family members."
Don't blame them if they take a glace at that scoreboard a few more times before walking off the Lucas Oil Stadium turf as a champion.