A screeching halt
NEW PALESTINE — It all swung so quickly.
Michigan City was leading New Palestine 10-7 early in the second quarter of Saturday’s Class 5A North Semistate and was driving for another score.
On 3rd-and-5 from the Dragons 21-yard line, quarterback Bryce Hayman floated a pass over the defense down the seam to Michael Bradford, but the throw drifted just a bit far to the outside of Bradford and the ball tipped off his outstretched right hand. The Wolves went for it on fourth down, but a Hayman pass sailed over Zennon Wilhelm at the peak of his slant route.
Two plays later, New Palestine quarterback Zach Neligh found Ryker Large wide open down the City sideline, courtesy of a busted coverage in the secondary, and he raced to a 75-yard score that gave the Dragons a 14-10 advantage that they wouldn’t release on their way to a 35-10 victory at Kelso Stadium.
“I feel like I could’ve put the ball in better spots and I take blame on most of those interceptions,” Hayman said, referencing the four picks he threw on the day, two of them coming off deflected passes. “I could’ve thrown better passes and put the ball in better windows for the guys, but it just didn’t go our way.”
Hayman’s first pass was intercepted on City’s second play from scrimmage and taken to the house from 45 yards just 93 seconds into the game by New Palestine defensive back Maxen Hook to quickly make it for the 7-0 home side.
The Wolves took their only lead on a 2-yard Lyric McFarri touchdown run, capping a virtuoso drive that saw the star Wolves back tote the ball 12 times. That followed a 22-yard Riley Shreve field goal.
But the long New Pal touchdown pass combined with three empty Wolves’ trips to the red zone ultimately doomed the visitors.
“I think it was minor mistakes,” McFarrin said on the Wolves’ offensive execution. “I think it was the blocking on two of (Bryce’s) interceptions. I made some mistakes myself, too. I remember a couple times when I was sidelines that ‘I should’ve made that cut’ or ‘I should’ve made that cut’, but I don’t know if I just didn’t see it or what, but I take blame for all of the run game.”
McFarrin finished with 126 yards, but the Dragons held him to a reasonable 4.34 yards a carry, way below his 12.1 yards average this season.
After the missed pass attempts, McFarrin was stopped on 4th-and-5 from right outside the New Pal 30 on a swing pass to the flat and then inside of the final 45 seconds in the half, Zennon Wilhelm was tripped up on his way to the end zone that could’ve trimmed the Dragon lead to 21-17 at the half. Shreve pulled a 32-yard field goal as time expired.
“I ran into two of them and they were congested, but they didn’t have me down,” Wilhelm said. “I saw the end zone. I saw no one around me, so I went to take off and the dude slapped the back of my heel and barely got me.”
Wilhelm was held in check with one catch for six yards in the second half, but finished his final prep game with six catches for 136 yards and two plays that should’ve probably resulted in touchdowns for the Wolves.
On the second play of the second half, Hayman was picked off again on a deflected pass near the line of scrimmage.
“Bryce saw something, he checked into a play, the kid was wide open, it just got tipped and got intercepted. That’s football,” Mason said. “The turnover points to start the third quarter changed the whole dynamic of the game. (That) forced us in a direction we didn’t exactly want to go. It’s not Bryce’s fault by any means. Their defense is just really good. They’re aggressive. They do a good job with their blitzes and forced Bryce to throw it a little early.”
The vaunted Wolves defense kept the visitors in the game for a while, coming up with a goalline stand late in the third in a 28-10 game and forcing the Dragons into some early adjustments with the Wolves (10-3) selling out to stop record-setting running back Charlie Spegal.
“Their line was fantastic,” Neligh said. “They came out and played really aggressive and physical, which we knew they were going to do. It’s one of the best lines we’ve seen all year if not the best. They were stopping the run really well. We just really needed to work on spreading out field more with passing game to open up (the run) for later in the game.”
Despite a slow start — three carries for nine yards — Spegal wound up with 193 yards and a trio of a touchdowns, two coming in the second half as the Dragons (13-0) dominated possession.
“What did we have? Twenty plays in the second half?” Mason said. ”(New Pal coach Kyle Ralph) gets a lot out of those kids. Their tempo wears you down. We didn’t give our defense a chance in the second half.”
New Palestine 35, Michigan City 10
The Wolves turned the ball over four times as the Dragons move on to their third state final in the last six seasons.