By KEVIN HARRIS
The Providence football team found out a very important thing on Friday night at Cook Field — Paoli’s defense is as good as advertised.
The Rams held the Pioneers to 96 total yards, including 42 yards rushing, in posting their fourth shutout of the season, 40-0 in the first round of Class 2A Sectional 31. Paoli (8-2) will visit Triton Central, a 33-12 winner over Monrovia on Friday night, next Friday in the semifinals.
Entering the game, the Rams ranked 14th in the state and second in Class 2A in scoring defense, allowing 10 points per contest.
“Their front seven is very good and I can’t take anything away from their secondary,” said Pioneers’ coach Larry Denison, whose team got blanked for the second time in three games. “We wanted to try to throw a little bit and take it from there.”
Denison decided to rely on the arm of Providence quarterback Nathan Banet on Friday because his top four running backs were inactive because of injuries. That quartet included juniors Owen Mattingly and Ben Hauber, sophomore Matt Bell and senior Erron Hickerson. Hickerson, who also plays defensive back, was out with a high ankle sprain.
“I would have loved to played them at full strength,” said Denison, who also was without senior linemen Daniel Fernandez and Cameron Mitchell. “They were just a better team tonight.”
Banet struggled under center, completing only 6-of-27 passes for 54 yards and three interceptions. Junior Conner Johnson led the Pioneer running attack, gaining 26 yards on 10 carries.
“We knew it was going to be tough to run the ball against them,” Denison said.
The Rams needed only four running plays to score their first touchdown. On third-and-2 at the Providence 4-yard line, quarterback Lee Wroblewski ran 4 yards into the end zone to put Paoli up 7-0 with 8:51 left in the first quarter.
After the Pioneers (3-7) committed a 15-yard penalty for interfering with the Rams’ punt returner that placed the ball at the Paoli 49, Wroblewski hit Rams’ split end Tanner Wroblewski on a 47-yard pass along the right sideline to get the pigskin inside the Pioneer 5.
Then, running back Tanner Allen rumbled into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown to extend the advantage to 13-0 at the 7:06 mark of the first.
Following a Providence three-and-out, the Rams reached paydirt again in the opening stanza.
On fourth-and-an-inch at the Paoli 47, Lee Wroblewski appeared to be stopped at the Paoli 48 on a quarterback sneak. But the Rams’ signal-caller’s knee never went down, as he broke loose for a 53-yard touchdown run to up the lead to 19-0. The advantage grew to 21-0 when Tanner Wroblewski caught a pass from Lee Wroblewski for the two-point conversion.
Paoli increased its lead to 27-0 when Allen scored his second 4-yard touchdown run on the night at the 11:31 mark of the second quarter.
Providence tried some trickery to keep its next drive alive.
On fourth-and-7 at the Paoli 48 and with the Pioneers lined up to punt, the ball got snapped to Banet, who was the upback. Banet executed the fake punt by completing a 20-yard pass to Johnson for a first down, moving the ball to the Paoli 28.
But Providence gained only 1 yard on the next four plays, turning the ball over on downs and creating no spark to its offense.
“We hoped it would spark us,” Denison said about the fake punt. “But Paoli responded well. I thought it would jump-start us.”
Paoli went up 34-0 with 21.9 seconds left in the first half, as Tanner Wroblewski caught a 1-yard TD pass from Lee Wroblewski.
The Rams’ final touchdown came in the final quarter, as Dylan McClintock had a 1-yard TD run with 10:41 left in regulation.
The Pioneers say goodbye to eight seniors, who are Hickerson, Fernandez, Mitchell, Andrew Wimp, Bobby Coan, Cory Cecil, T.J. Hutt and Jake Braden.
PAOLI 40, PROVIDENCE 0
Providence 0 0 0 0— 0
Paoli 21 13 0 6—40
Pa — Lee Wroblewski 4 run (Garrett Strange kick), 8:51.
Pa — Travis Allen 4 run (kick failed), 7:06.
Pa — L. Wroblewski 53 run (Tanner Wroblewski pass from L. Wroblewski), 3:37.
Pa — Allen 4 run (kick failed), 11:31.
Pa — T. Wroblewski 1 pass from L. Wroblewski (Strange kick), :21.9.
Pa — Dylan McClintock 1 run (kick failed), 10:41.