CLARKSVILLE — The Providence Pioneers stood toe-to-toe with visiting Triton Central for three quarters in Friday night’s Class 2A Sectional 39 championship game at Murphy Stadium, but the Tigers scored 20 unanswered points to notch the 20-0 shutout.
In the end, the Pioneers fielded 35 players — nine of whom played both offense and defense — against Triton, which had twice as many on its sideline. The sheer depth had an impact late in the game, particularly, when the Tiger rushing attack wore down the Pioneers.
“It’s something we’ve faced all year,” Providence coach Larry Denison said. “We can’t make any excuses for it, it’s life and it’s the way things have been.”
“Our guys fought hard. I’m proud of them. We had to overcome some things, particularly in the first half, but on the defensive side especially, we battled them. They’re a good football team.”
The Pioneers (5-7) were able to overcome three first-half turnovers to head into the half engaged in a scoreless tie with the Tigers (9-3).
Providence was playing with fire on a chilly night, but it looked like the Pioneers finally were going to get caught late in the first half when Nathan Striby’s punt was blocked by Triton Central’s Zach Martin and recovered by Hayden Kermode at the Providence 23.
But the Pioneers' defense, as it did throughout the first half, came up huge.
With about a minute left, Mitch Kleeman’s 37-yard field-goal attempt sailed left. The Pioneers, however, were pegged for a roughing-the-kicker call, which took the ball inside the 10.
After Providence made three additional stops, the Tigers had a fourth-and-goal at the 2. Triton, though, fumbled the ball on a bad exchange and Chase Aldridge recovered as time ran down towards intermission — with the Pioneer sideline and cheering section as the team headed toward the locker room.
“That was huge,” Denison said. “We went in the half thinking we had all the momentum.”
The Pioneers got two more stops after intermission before the dam finally burst late in the third quarter, when they began being gashed by Triton tailbacks Josh Thacker and Kermode, who had been largely kept in check throughout the contest.
Kermode picked up 17 yards on a third-down carry, then scampered into the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown run that broke the scoreless tie with 2:14 left in the third quarter.
Thacker added a 1-yard touchdown run on Triton’s next possession early in the fourth quarter, then Kermode notched another score, and the Pioneers finally capitulated.
“I thought we moved the ball offensively, and we were hurt by some penalties,” Denison said. “We knew coming in we’d have to play a perfect game, and we didn’t do that. But I’m proud of the kids, again, they really competed.”
Triton Central will host Evansville Mater Dei in the regional championship next Friday.
Providence says goodbye to Aldridge, quarterback Bishop Edwards, tight end Alec Fougerousse, fullback Andrew Henderson, linebacker Austin Barnett, tailback Colin Flake, as well as linemen Connor Hazen, Brayton Gettelfinger, Vincent Benningfield, Donte' Davis and Henry Jones.