Early miscues plague Arabians in loss at New Palestine

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NEW PALESTINE — Taking advantage of the other team’s mistakes was the theme of Friday’s Hoosier Heritage Conference football game between New Palestine and Pendleton Heights.

The Dragons did.

The Arabians didn’t.

A bad snap on a punt and an interception on Pendleton Heights’ first two possessions led to 14 New Palestine points.

The Dragons, up 14, nearly let the Arabians back in with an interception and fumble of their own, but the Arabians followed with two three-and-out series.

New Palestine added two more first-half touchdowns on its way to a 38-3 victory at Kelso Stadium.

The Dragons are 2-3 overall and 2-1 in the HHC. The Arabians fall to 3-2 and 1-2.

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“They put the clamps on us,” Pendleton Heights coach Jed Richman said. “You have to give them credit. Until we learn to be more disciplined in situations, this is going to happen against good teams. Their record is misleading. They’re a high-quality football team and are going to win a lot more games this season.

“They’re well-coached, and they played hard. We played hard, too, but we didn’t always play smart.”

The early setbacks and 14-point deficit were big blows to the Arabians, hoping to get their first win versus the Dragons since 2012.

“It sucks the life out of you. It’s frustrating,” Richman said. “You don’t see it all week long. We haven’t turned the ball over much all season.”

The (first interception) was a deflection. It’s not like (quarterback Luke Candiano) made a bad decision. Then, we get takeaways and don’t do anything.”

On the game’s opening series, Pendleton Heights got near midfield, but a sack of quarterback Luke Candiano by freshman lineman Michael Thacker and junior defensive back Eli Hook forced fourth down. The snap to Arabians punter Justin Beeler was off target, and the Dragons ended up starting with the ball at the PH 32.

New Palestine converted a fourth down from the PH 25, on a five-yard run by Blaine Nunnally, then scored on a 20-yard rush from Kyler Kropp.

Brendan Tanksley added the first of his five successful PATs — he also had a 32-yard field goal in the third quarter — to give the Dragons a 7-0 lead with 5:42 remaining in the opening quarter.

Two plays into the ensuing series, Candiano was picked off by senior defensive back Gus Walling. The ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Thacker.

The Dragons began their series at the Arabians’ 14. Three plays later sophomore running back Grayson Thomas scored on a 2-yard run.

The Arabians got a 26-yard field goal from Dominic Apo to start the second quarter to cut the home team’s lead to 14-3.

Pendleton Heights looked to be gaining momentum when, following Apo’s field goal, New Palestine quarterback Damon Hockett was picked off by Brennan Adams.

It didn’t happen.

The series, which started at the Arabians’ 34, ended three plays later at the Arabians’ 33 on a sack by Dragons junior Eian Roudebush.

The Dragons gave the ball right back after a botched handoff between Hockett and Thomas. Again, the Arabians were unable to do much, starting from their own 39 and ending on their own 41.

“It’s huge. We don’t want to turn the ball over like that, but the fact our defense bailed us out and got stops is big,” New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph said. “It was nice to see our offense take advantage of their mistakes, which is something we’ve been able to do in the past, but haven’t been able to do well this year. It was nice to see us do that this year.”

By halftime, New Palestine had extended its lead to 28-3.

After the Dragons’ defense had its second quick series, it needed only one play to score.

From their 21, Hockett connected with Isaiah Thacker on a 79-yard pass play. Thacker outran the Pendleton Heights defense and went untouched to the end zone for a 21-3 Dragon lead.

Right before the first half concluded, Thomas added his second touchdown of the game.

Set up by a 38-yard run from Hockett, on third-and-16, Thomas scored from 18 yards away with just 1:32 left until halftime.

Thomas finished with 15 carries for 132 yards. Hockett completed 7 of 14 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. He rushed 12 times for 55 yards and a score. Isaiah Thacker had three catches for 138 yards and a touchdown.

The New Palestine defense made it rough on Pendleton Heights’ veteran Candiano. The senior quarterback was 4 of 14 for 50 yards with two interceptions.

James Malone led the Arabians offense with nine carries for 46 yards. Caden Sims had two catches for 44 yards.

Arabians junior Clifton Van Duyn had a team-high seven tackles. Josh Schoger and Dresden Roberts each had a tackle for loss. Roberts had a fumble recovery for the second straight week.

The win was the Dragons’ 10th straight over the Arabians and 20th in the last 22 meetings.

“We don’t have to play perfect to win down here, but we sure can’t beat ourselves,” Richman added. “We have a lot of football ahead of us. We grew up tonight. We started a bunch of young bucks, and this is going to make us better.

“Life doesn’t stop kicking your butt. You just gotta go. That’s the life lesson. Tough times don’t last, tough people will. We’re trying to train some tough kids.”

The Arabians will finish their three-week run of Hancock County opponents this week with a trip to Mt. Vernon on Friday. The Marauders are 4-1 and have won four in a row. They lead the HHC with a 3-0 record.