Soon after the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard Friday night, members of New Palestine’s football team huddled together near midfield with a can of red spray paint and painted the coveted Boundary Rail trophy from Mt. Vernon from black back to Dragons’ red.
The celebration left the hands of first-year coach Kyle Ralph and star quarterback, Blake Luker, bright red after they hoisted it in the air. But neither seemed to care, especially after losing to the rival Marauders last year.
New Palestine, coming off a 3-7 season, wrapped up a perfect regular season in style Friday night, beating Mt. Vernon, 20-0, to claim its third outright Hoosier Heritage Conference championship in four years. The Dragons already had clinched at least a share of their fifth conference title coming into the game.
“They look nice in red,” Ralph told his team as he looked down at his hands.
On a more serious note, Ralph told his team: “Not a single person outside of our family thought we could do what we did this year. No one thought this was possible.”
It marked the second time in three years the Dragons (6-0, 9-0) have ended the regular season undefeated.
New Palestine, ranked No. 2 behind Columbus East in the Class 4A poll, will begin its quest for its first state championship next Friday at Pendleton Heights in Sectional 21 action. The Dragons beat the Arabians 46-7 in week three.
After the game, Luker gave Ralph much of the credit for coming in and turning the program around.
“Coach has been unbelievable,” Luker said. “We didn’t know him when he first got here, but we knew he was the right guy for the job. He talks about winning the day and doing the best you can in class and life. Coach has everything to do with this.”
The Class 4A No. 7-ranked Marauders (4-2, 7-2) came into the game with a chance to share the conference title. Instead they finished third, two games behind the Dragons and a game back of Yorktown. They open sectional play next week at home against Beech Grove.
The Marauders, who came into the game with Class 4A’s sixth best scoring average at 41.7 points per game, were held to just 71 yards of total offense and four rushing yards.
“We had two teams that were both averaging 40 some points a game and you know, it was …,” Mt. Vernon coach Doug Armstrong said. “We weren’t able to make plays when we need to and Luker was able to make plays.”
On offense, the Dragons, the fourth best team in the state at 45.3 points per game, were led again by dual-threat Luker, who has consistently played well in both the running and passing game this season. The 5-11, 190-pound speedster finished the game 11-of-18 passing for 145 yards, and 85 yards on the ground.
“It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of,” Luker said. “You learn to hate (Mt. Vernon) growing up. Spray painting that rail meant a lot.”
New Palestine jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter on the second straight touchdown pass of the game from Luker to Nolan Guedel. The Dragons made it 20-0 in the third on a seven-yard TD pass from Luker to Duke Blackwell.
This all came despite a first half in which New Palestine fumbled on its first possession, missed two extra points, missed a field goal and had multiple penalties.
“Our number one goal was to win conference,” said Ralph, who played collegiately at North Carolina. “This group has worked as hard as any team I’ve ever been around.”
New Palestine is 4-0 this season against teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time they played.