After talking with New Palestine football coach Kyle Ralph in the locker room following his team’s unbelievable 64-61 loss to Fort Wayne Snider on Friday night in the Class 5A finals at Lucas Oil Stadium, I made the long walk down the hallway toward the elevator in the stadium’s northwest corner.
New Pal assistant Donnie Blackwell walked with me. “Well, did we give you anything to write about?” Blackwell said with a smile.
His son, Duke, caught 10 passes for a finals-record 328 yards and three touchdowns. I read him the numbers. “Are you serious?” he asked.
That was the question many in Lucas Oil Stadium were asking during and after the Fort Wayne Snider-New Palestine heartstopper. Even a day later, the press box was still buzzing about a game that set or tied 14 team or individual state finals records.
STATE CHAMPIONSHIP COVERAGE
It was a game to remember. Here are other moments from the 2015 high school football season that I’ll take with me:
>> The total belief New Pal had that it was going to win that game. Snider led 42-14 late in the first half and had more speed at its skill positions than the Dragons could handle. Alex Neligh led New Pal back, accounting for 501 passing yards and four touchdowns and 166 rushing yards and four more scores. Ultimately, New Pal left Snider too much time for a game-winning TD drive. But the comeback gave the rest of the state a glimpse of what New Pal football has been about the past three years.
>> Center Grove’s resilience. I’ve seen more talented teams, but the Trojans were a team that simply refused to be beaten. If you don’t take Titus McCoy to the ground, he’ll keep running. Every time Center Grove was faced with a situation where it had to make a play — particularly in the 35-34 double-overtime semistate win against Avon and the 28-16 championship win against Penn — it did. It takes a certain amount of physical talent to win a state title, but Center Grove’s mental toughness set it apart.
>> AJ Elcock’s play in Avon’s semistate loss to Center Grove. On Center Grove’s desperation game-tying drive at the end of regulation, quarterback Joey Siderewicz killed the clock by spiking the ball with 9.9 seconds left. Or did he? Elcock, in an incredibly athletic play, dove to the turf and nearly intercepted — or possibly, did intercept — the pass. The officials ruled it incomplete. Center Grove’s Nathanael Snyder kicked the game-tying field goal on the next play.
>> I’ll remember Warren Central’s Jay Coe getting every last drop of production out of his 5-6 frame (he’s actually about 5-4).
>> I’ll remember Monrovia’s funky, old-school belly offense giving Howe fits in the semistate. And Howe giving it right back to it with big plays. Monrovia won, 37-31, a great battle of small-school programs doing it in different styles.
>> I’ll remember Monrovia’s Clay Starnes walking over to Howe’s Dontae Henderson after that game. Henderson had his head down and helmet on, sitting by himself on the field. Starnes couldn’t have known anyone was watching. He kneeled down, talked to Henderson for a few seconds and reached out his hand. Henderson did the same. Starnes tapped him on the helmet and continued on his way.
>> I’ll remember no-nonsense Vince Lorenzano leading Bishop Chatard to its state-record 13th state championship in the 3A game.
>> I’ll remember Avon’s Brandon Peters firing bullets, and Andrew Griffin and Matt Moore catching them.
>> I’ll remember Ben Davis’ Chris Evans making XBox moves and always remembering to thank his offensive line in postgame interviews.
>> I’ll remember watching Cathedral sophomore Markese Stepp run down the dugout steps after his first touchdown in the first football game at Victory Field.
>> I’ll remember getting locked inside another stadium after filing a story and wondering at what age I won’t be able to climb the fence and jump out (answer: not much longer).
>> I’ll remember listening to an offensive coordinator call plays while trying to figure how to run away from Center Grove defensive tackle Jovan Swann, an impossible task.
>> I’ll remember thinking I’ve never seen a game flip like Hamilton Southeastern’s 39-33 win against Fishers, a game the Royals trailed 28-0. And then thinking the same when New Pal rallied against Snider.
>> I’ll remember visiting Clinton Prairie, a program that didn’t even get to finish the season last year when half the team quit. Under new coach K.C. Woods, a Danville native, the Gophers went 8-4.
>> I’ll remember feeling uneasy whenever a game stopped for a head injury. The concussion issue isn’t going anywhere. I love football. I played it for years. Football is a violent game. We owe it to the sport and the kids who play it to make sure football continues to evolve.
>> I’ll remember talking to coaches who are already thinking this way, teaching rugby-style tackling to the head out of collisions. There are a lot of smart, caring coaches out there.
>> I’ll remember Howe sophomore Justin Johnson telling me he wants to win a state championship so someday he can bring his kids to the school and show them the trophy. I remember watching him play and believing he can do it.
>> I’ll remember Eastern Hancock coach Jim O’Hara telling his students I was his parole officer. I’m pretty sure they knew he was joking.
>> I’ll remember how lucky I am to tell these stories. Thanks for reading.
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.