PENDLETON — Bit by bit, little by little, the Pendleton Heights football program keeps progressing and gaining on the Hoosier Heritage Conference gold standard from New Palestine.
But, given one of their best opportunities to end a losing streak in the series, the Arabians were still just a few plays short.
The Dragons struck with one big first-half play, dominated the second half defensively and rebounded from their first regular-season loss in over eight years for a 13-3 win at John Broughton Field Friday night.
“You’ve got to give New Pal credit. They’re the champs. I don’t care if Mount Vernon beat them or not,” PH coach Jed Richman said. “That’s one heck of a football program.”
It was obvious early this game would be different than recent meetings, which had averaged a 48-14 New Pal victory during Richman’s tenure.
Pendleton Heights forced the Dragons to punt on four of their six first-half possessions. Meanwhile, the Arabians were moving the ball, rushing for over 100 yards in the first half.
“We had a good plan, and we moved the ball,” Richman said. “We just didn’t have it when we needed it. You’ve got to make plays down the field, we always talk about having balance.”
In fact, the Arabians dominated everything in the first half except on the scoreboard. Despite owning the time of possession advantage by nearly 13 minutes and having a 7-3 lead in first downs, the one big play they allowed sent the Dragons into the locker room with the lead.
And all the first-half scoring happened in a span of 12 seconds.
After an Arabians’ drive stalled in the red zone, Nick Taylor scored the first points with a 23-yard field goal with 4:20 left in the half.
But the Dragons, who had not picked up a first down on their first three possessions, did that and more on their first play of the ensuing drive when quarterback Lincoln Roth hit Blake Austin over the middle, and the senior wide receiver outran the Pendleton Heights defense for a 70-yard touchdown. Sophomore Brendan Tanksly missed the extra point, and the New Pal lead was 6-3.
After halftime, the game belonged to the Dragons’ defense.
They held the Arabians to just 50 net yards and did not allow a single first down. Pendleton Heights ran just four plays in Dragons’ territory after a short punt gave PH great field position.
The Arabians’ defense was nearly equal to the task, limiting the Dragons’ offense. But New Pal did put together one solid offensive drive, engineered by Roth.
The senior rushed the ball six times for 43 yards on a 12-play Dragons drive to open the fourth quarter, leading to a 9-yard scoring run by Grayson Thomas for a 13-3 lead that remained the final difference.
While frustrated by the close loss, Richman was pleased with the effort of his team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
“I thought the defense in general played extremely phyiscal,” he said. “We grew up a lot tonight. … We’ve got to make plays in big-time games like this. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Pendleton Heights (4-1) will remain home next week as it hosts HHC frontrunner Mount Vernon while New Palestine (3-1) will host Greenfield-Central.