CLARKSVILLE — During Larry Denison's first year at Providence, the Pioneers were coming off a state finals appearance and won their second straight sectional championship for the first time in program history.
It hasn't happened since. That was 1994.
Denison has been the head coach at Providence for eight seasons and his Pioneers have a chance to do what Gene Sartini's squads did in 1993 and 1994 when they face unbeaten Paoli in Friday's Class 2A Sectional 39 championship at Paoli.
"It would be very special," Denison said. "Any time you win a football sectional, it's one of the hardest things to do in high school sports, so we cherish the opportunity to play for another one."
The Pioneers (9-2), who beat the Rams 41-25 in last year's championship game for their first sectional crown in 10 years, have won nine games in a row. Paoli's record is unblemished in 11 games.
"They're very deserving of their record, obviously," Denison said. "Their offense is like clockwork. Coach [Jeremy] Lowery does a great job and they don't miss a beat. We're going to have to be very disciplined ... because they give you a lot of different looks."
Paoli had a strong second half in last week's 42-16 win over rival Mitchell. The Rams outscored the Bluejackets 28-8 after halftime.
"[In the] second half, they really took it to them," Denison said. "They showed what they're capable of and that's what we've got to be ready for. They're very good."
Perry Central and Mitchell are the only common opponents between the Rams and Pioneers. Paoli beat the Commodores 26-6 Sept. 9 and bested the Bluejackets 29-20 Oct. 5 in the regular-season matchup. Providence won 20-14 at Mitchell on Sept. 28 and 28-6 at Perry Central last Friday night.
It's been five or six weeks now that I've been convinced that not only was Providence going to win the Sectional 39 championship, it was also going to challenge Southridge or Mater Dei in the regional. Advancing further is even a strong possibility.
The Pioneers are that good. They have multiple offensive weapons and a defense that makes things happen.
But after Paoli's impressive performance last Friday against Mitchell, I'm a little less convinced. Not because Providence is any worse than I originally thought. In fact, the Pioneers have proven me right week after week. It's that Lowery's unbeaten Rams are for real.
It's going to take a strong effort by either team to win this game — and I like the winner's chances in next week's regional.
I'm sticking with Providence, but I'm now giving the Rams a, say, 25 percent chance of pulling off a minor upset.
• GREG'S PICK: Providence 30, Paoli 20.