If you talk to Providence football coach Justin Hardin and many of his players and assistants, they will tell you they “feel like a different team this season from a year ago.”
Friday night, the Panthers, No. 7 in the Observer Sweet 16, continued to show their progress in the past two seasons, jumping on Berry early and coasting to a 28-0 victory.
The Panthers (6-1, 3-0 in SoMeck8 conference play) earned their 6th straight win, after dropping their opener to Summerville (S.C.). The victory also helped celebrate homecoming weekend.
“In Year 2 (of Hardin coaching era), we definitely feel like a much more confident team,” Hardin said. “But I feel we still have a lot to improve on. We made a lot of mental mistakes and left a lot out on the field. We have the football players to play a tough, physical game with anyone, but we have to be more focused.”
Providence looked focused from the start as senior running back Brian Mattar burst down the right sideline untouched on the first play of the Panthers’ second offensive possession, scoring from 26 yards out to put his team up 7-0.
Then, after forcing a quick Berry three-and-out, Mattar struck again on the first play of the second quarter, when he ran up the middle and broke away from the pack of defenders – this time on a 79-yard touchdown run to give Providence a 14-0 lead.
Mattar finished with 165 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 10 carries in three quarters of play.
“It was huge for us to jump on them and get a lead and just keep attacking,” said Mattar, who now has 841 yards rushing and eight touchdowns on the ground this season. “We have a lot of confidence and feel likely a totally different team (this year).”
Providence junior running back, Jack King, finished the first half scoring, also taking in a 57-yard touchdown run with 3:37 left in the second quarter. Panthers’ senior quarterback, Caleb York, added 62 yards and the final score (one-yard touchdown run) in the second half.
The Panthers rushed for 310 yards and four touchdowns overall on the night.
While the Providence offense was strong early, the Panthers’ defense dominated the game all night, pitching its second straight shutout, after blanking West Mecklenburg last week. The Panthers also forced five Berry turnovers, including three fumbles and two interceptions.
Providence senior defensive lineman, Dimitri Gonzales led the way with three sacks and a forced fumble.
Berry (2-5, 0-3) moved the ball well for most of the night as Cardinals’ senior quarterback, Kiante Cotton, went 26-for-34 passing for 224 yards on the night.
But Berry continually shot themselves in the foot with turnovers, including one interception inside the 10-yard line in final seconds of the first half.