By DOUG ZALESKI
The situation might have been a little awkward. Might have resulted in some nervousness and excitement at the same time.
But in the end, the final regular-season game of Charlie Spegal’s illustrious high school football career Friday produced a result similar to many in the past four seasons.
The bruising running back who holds Indiana’s all-time rushing record helped Class 5A No. 1 New Palestine beat his former school, Class 4A No. 9 Delta, 49-13 in a game on the Eagles’ field that allowed the Dragons to win the Hoosier Heritage Conference championship.
Spegal played for Delta as a freshman and sophomore, then played against the Eagles last season in a game at New Palestine after his family moved. This time, Spegal faced the emotional challenge of playing against them on the same field where some of his best friends still play.
“It was pretty cool coming back where it all started; it was special,” said Spegal, who rushed for 4,343 yards in two seasons at Delta. “It was kind of weird, just seeing them on the other side and going at it the whole game. But it was fun, too.”
Delta defensive back Wesley Stitt had some fun with his good friend when he made a tackle on Spegal in the first quarter.
“I will say the very first play of the game, or the second play, I tackled him up the middle and I may have said, ‘This is going to happen all night,’ ” Stitt said with a smile. “But we didn’t talk much during the game. Hardly at all, actually. I have no bad blood with him. He’s a heck of a guy.”
Spegal stopped to give Stitt a pat on the game during a postgame interview after turning in his typical workmanlike performance. Spegal ran 58 yards for a touchdown on the fourth play of the game to give the Dragons a 7-0 lead that they would never relinquish.
For the game, Spegal ran for 232 yards on 31 carries and scored two more touchdowns on a pair of 5-yard bulldozes up the middle in the third and fourth quarters.
Delta coach Chris Overholt said he doesn’t spend time wondering what the Eagles might have looked like had Spegal played his entire career with them.
“If we were hung up on that, there’s no way we would have had the success we’ve had the past two years,” Overholt said.
Stitt noted the Eagles’ offense took a new path after Spegal’s departure, from a ground-and-pound run look to a more versatile attack that included running and passing.
“My junior and senior years we’re passing the ball for 1,000 or so yards and each (running back) has 400 or 500 rushing yards (so opponents) can’t focus on one guy,” he said. “He wouldn’t have had the accomplishments he has, and we wouldn’t have, I guess, the offensive diversity as we do.”
One of the few highlights the Eagles had against New Palestine was an impressive goal-line stand in the first quarter. The Dragons had first-and-goal at the 4-yard line, but Delta stuffed four straight rushing attempts.
Spegal carried the first three times for 1 yard, 2 yards and no gain before quarterback Lincoln Roth was stopped on a fourth-down run from the 1-yard line.
“Charlie is a heck of a ball player, and extremely strong,” Stitt said. “We made our reads, got through the holes properly, and we stopped him a couple of times.”
But New Palestine’s efficient offense, combined with a couple of Delta turnovers, eventually became too much for the Eagles. The Dragons scored four touchdowns in the second quarter for a 35-0 halftime lead.
Each team scored twice in the second half, with Delta’s touchdowns coming on a 7-yard pass from Brady Hunt to Malachi Silmon and a 9-yard run by Stitt.
Spegal increased his state career rushing yardage total to 9,665 yards. The three touchdowns allowed him to tie the state career record for scoring.
New Palestine, last year’s 5A state champion and the favorite to repeat this year, won the HHC title with an unbeaten record for the 7th straight year.
After finishing the regular season with a 7-2 overall record and 5-2 in the HHC, the Eagles will turn their attention to IHSAA tournament play. They will start with a sectional game at Mississinewa at 7 p.m. next Friday.
Overholt said his team has to clean up some turnover issues that showed in its two losses, but he likes the physicality his team plays with and the closeness of his players.
“From that standpoint I think we’re peaking,” he said. “We’ve played the hardest schedule of (teams) in our sectional.
“Outside of the turnovers, I really like what we’re doing and how we’re practicing. We just finished second in a conference where almost every team but three finished with a winning record.”