NEW PALESTINE — Kyle Ralph didn’t want to go there, knowing it would come off sounding like an excuse. Making excuses isn’t how Ralph built New Palestine into an unlikely high school football power in four seasons, winning 50 of 52 games and a state championship coming into Friday.
But the difference was striking. Columbus East, with all of its starting offensive linemen weighing at least 250 pounds, looked like grown men up front. The fourth-ranked Olympians wore down smaller, second-ranked New Palestine for a 35-7 win in a Class 5A Sectional 14 showdown on a crisp, cool Friday night.
“We knew they were big and strong and physical,” Ralph said. “We told our guys if they could withstand the punishment and deal with it, then we’re going to be alright. If we can’t, we knew we’d be in trouble. They punished us. That’s pretty much what it came down to.”
Columbus East (9-1) unleashed a dominant ground game, rushing for 296 yards. Quarterback Josh Major carried 21 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns and tailback Jamon Hogan rushed 24 times for 120 yards and two more scores. Major and Hogan rarely ran into interference until they were several yards up the field, running behind a starting offensive line anchored by 6-4, 265-pound center Harry Crider, an Indiana recruit.
Columbus East, leading 20-7 at halftime, took the second-half kickoff and drove 80 yards in 15 plays and took more than six minutes off the clock. It was a soul-crushing drive for the New Palestine defense, which didn’t put a hand on Hogan as he sliced in for a 6-yard TD run.
“New Pal has a lot of guys going both ways and we could definitely feel them getting worn down,” Crider said. “We wanted to keep driving off of that and keep hitting them hard.”
Columbus East will host Martinsville next week in a Sectional 14 semifinal game.
New Palestine (9-1) was hurt by four turnovers, three in the first half. Columbus East’s Ethan Summa intercepted a Gunnar Large pass on the first play of the game. The Olympians turned it into a 7-0 lead when Major scored on a 1-yard run to cap a five-play, 24-yard drive.
Columbus East missed a chance for a touchdown on its following drive when it fumbled through the end zone for a New Pal touchback. But the Olympians cashed in on another turnover — this time a fumble — with a 10-play, 73-yard scoring drive. On fourth-and-5, Major dropped the ball, reversed field to his right and found tight end Bryce Duffett for a 14-yard touchdown pass to give Columbus East a 14-0 lead with 8:33 in the half.
“Just not executing,” Ralph said of the mistakes. “I have to prepare these guys better, and we have to make better decisions in the things that we do.”
New Pal gave itself a chance, however, and brought its big contingent of fans to life with a 15-play, 80-yard drive. On fourth-and-goal from the Columbus East 2, DuRon Ford dove into the end zone to pull the Dragons within 14-7 with 3:20 left in the half.
After the New Pal defense forced a three-and-out, the offense got the ball back at its own 38 with 1:56 left and a chance to pull closer — or even. But Columbus East recovered a fumble on the second play of the drive. Seven plays later, with no timeouts, Major broke free and raced to the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown to give Columbus East a 20-7 lead with 1.4 seconds remaining in the half.
It was a backbreaking sequence for Ralph and the Dragons.
“You can’t do that stuff against average teams,” he said. “Let alone a team that is outstanding like this one. That’s a death sentence. You can’t do that.”
The teams have met each of the past four years with the winner advancing to the state finals each time. Columbus East won a 4A semistate in 2013 and went on to win a state championship. New Pal knocked off the Olympians the following year, then won its first state title. Both teams then moved up a class under the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s tournament success factor and New Pal won a sectional game last year before advancing to the 5A state finals, losing to Fort Wayne Snider.
New Pal, which came into the game averaging a state-leading 57 points and 312 rushing yards, managed just 124 yards on the ground on 28 carries. Ford, who had rushed for 1,774 yards on the season, was limited to 54 yards on 14 carries. The Dragons didn’t gain a first down in the third quarter on two possessions.
“We thought we had a good front,” Columbus East coach Bob Gaddis said. “We told our kids that we felt like we were built for this time of year. You have to run the ball when you want to and need to, and we ran the football pretty well.”
Columbus East sent a message to the rest of 5A with its dominance on Friday.
“I think it does,” Crider said. “It sends a message that the East Olympians are back to win a state title.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.
COLUMBUS EAST 35, NEW PALESTINE 7
CE – Josh Major 1 run (Sam Thomasson kick)
CE – Bryce Duffett 14 pass from Major (Thomasson kick)
NP – DuRon Ford 2 run (Spencer Corey kick)
CE – Major 17 run (kick blocked)
CE – Jamon Hogan 6 run (Major run)
CE – Hogan 4 run (Thomasson kick)
|Total Net Yards||340||247|
Rushing – Columbus East, Major 21-128, Hogan 24-120, Jaedin Miller 15-48. New Palestine, Ford 14-54, Gunnar Large 12-52, Brady Walden 2-18.
Passing — Columbus East, Major 3-7-0 44. New Palestine, Large 14-24-2 123, Adam Kincaid 0-1-0 0.
Receiving — Columbus East, Cameron Wilson 1-18, Duffett 1-14, Ethan Summa 1-12. New Palestine, Brett Luker 6-63, Colby Jenkins 4-34, Ford 1-14, Kincaid 2-12, Walden 1-8.