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NEW PALESTINE — A week after posting a season-high 221 yards and five touchdowns in a regional title win over Concord, Michigan City running back Lyric McFarrin followed up his breakout performance by totaling 29 carries for 126 yards against New Palestine in a Class 5A semistate.

He broke numerous tackles and was only stopped for a loss twice, but his solid effort on the ground wasn’t enough to propel Michigan City (10-3) to its first-ever state title game. For the second straight year, the Wolves ended their season one win shy of a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium in a 35-10 loss to undefeated New Palestine (13-0).

“It’s the toughest thing about high school football,” Mason said about McFarrin and the rest of the seniors. “You don’t get to coach those kids anymore. And now you gotta go back into that locker room, and drop those names in a bucket and put new names up there and start over.”

Along with McFarrin, Bryce Hayman is another player Mason will have to move on without. He ended his senior season — and only year as Michigan City’s starting varsity quarterback — with 2,101 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But against the Dragons, his steady play was derailed with a season-high four picks. On the Wolves’ second play from scrimmage, Hayman dropped back and tried to throw a pass to the outside. But New Palestine defensive back Maxen Hook jumped the route and took it 45 yards the other way for the game’s first score.

The Wolves responded on their next two drives by relying on their rushing attack, and it paid off. McFarrin reeled off 11 straight rushes for 77 yards on Michigan City’s second possession — setting up a 22-yard field goal by kicker Riley Shreve — and he followed it up on the next drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.

“That’s Lyric. Lyric’s a great running back. Can I red-shirt him?” Mason joked after the game.

McFarrin’s 23rd rushing touchdown of the season put the Wolves in front 10-7 and marked the first time the Dragons trailed all season. But it wouldn’t have been possible without a big play from Hayman. The senior threw a 46-yard deep ball to senior wide receiver Zennon Wilhelm — who snuck behind New Palestine’s secondary — and hauled in a bobbling, fingertip grab that set McFarrin up for Michigan City's only touchdown of the game.

“We just had a lot of momentum going on that drive,” McFarrin said. “But I feel like they adjusted on the sidelines, and that’s what got them to stop us.”

After taking a three-point lead, the Wolves wouldn’t score again. New Palestine quarterback Zach Neligh threw a 76-yard touchdown bomb to wide receiver Ryker Large on the ensuing drive. And after being bottled up for most of the first half, running back Charlie Spegal broke free for a 10-yard touchdown run with just under four minutes left in the second quarter to make the score 21-10.

Wilhelm caught another crucial pass from Hayman right before halftime and looked destined to cut into the lead, but at the last moment New Palestine linebacker Jacob Hockett dove and made a touchdown-saving, shoestring tackle. Shreve still had one final chance to make it a one possession game after the 26-yard pick up. But with three seconds left on the clock, he missed a 32-yard field goal attempt wide left.

Hayman was intercepted three more times in the second half, and Spegal put the game out of reach with two touchdown runs. He finished the contest with 22 carries for 193 yards and three scores. His 11-yard score in the third quarter broke Sheridan running back Brett Law’s 30-year record for the most touchdowns in a single season, which Spegal now holds with 68 trips to the end zone.

“It feels incredible,” Spegal said. “But at the same time, I don’t want to get too carried away with it because I just want to win state. That’s all that matters.”

New Palestine will play Decatur Central for the state championship next Saturday, and afterwards Spegal said he will finally take some time to reflect.

But in the visiting locker room, Hayman’s season reflection wasn’t put on hold. The 5-foot-7 quarterback took off his jersey and pads for the last time, and wiped tears from his eyes as he packed up the rest of his belongings. He said he was disappointed with his outing and accepted most of the blame for Michigan City’s season-ending loss. But before he put his coat on and boarded the Wolves' team bus, he took a moment to put his journey into perspective.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity because it proves to the little kids growing up — who are going to be short — that you can do anything you put your mind to,” Hayman said. “You just gotta work at it like I did. I got my shot, and I think I did a pretty good this year.”

Wilhelm has been playing with Hayman since he was five years old. And after all of the wins and losses, touchdowns and interceptions, he said he still wouldn’t want anyone else throwing him the ball.

“I gave him a hug and told him I’m going to miss him,” Wilhelm said. “He’s the best quarterback I’ve ever had and will probably ever have.”

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Sports Reporter

James Boyd is the Lake County prep sports reporter for The Times. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a proud native of Romeoville, Illinois. Before anything else, his main goal in life is to spread love and light.