MALDEN - Every year, the Class 2A, District 1 championship seems to go through the Portageville-Malden game.
Since 1995, either Portageville or Malden has won the district title, with many of their head-to-head matchups deciding the winner.
And on top of that, these two represent one of the biggest rivalries in the area.
Once again this year's game, set for Friday night at 7:30 at Malden High School, will probably decide who wins the district championship.
Malden, the three-time defending district champs, has struggled this year but they have won two in a row.
Portageville, a winless team last year, has been rolling this season, losing only to Gosnell (Ark.) in the season-opener and Hayti. Both teams are undefeated.
The Bulldogs looked sharp last week coming off an open date, defeating East Prairie 42-0.
Malden is coming off a 28-6 win over Caruthersville, leaving both teams 1-0 in district play.
"It's obvious that this is a big game," said first year Malden head coach Kevin Collier. "They're pretty good, but you can't discount the other two district teams.
Portageville's record makes them the favorite coming in I'm sure. Coach (Jim) McKay is probably one of the best coaches around. He put a great work ethic into them and provided them with discipline and has them going in the right direction."
The Green Wave have been bolstered by the return of the athletic Karrington Rogers, who was injured up until two weeks ago.
In just two games, Rogers is already the Green Wave's second leading receiver with 170 yards on four catches with two scores. He also has run for a touchdown and has recorded an interception.
"He's been a spark for us," said Collier. "He's one of the best athletes in the school and he's got a good attitude. He's a good team leader as well as being a good athlete. We've improved somewhat and have got some kids healed up. We've got a ways to go but we think we're doing things better at the right time."
The Green Wave are led on the ground by fullback John Sutton, who has 638 yards rushing on the season. Tailback Mario Payne has 375 rushing yards this year.
Quarterback Scott Matthews has improved some, throwing for 570 yards, completing 33-of-85 passes with six interceptions and six TDs.
"I think Malden's at that point where they're starting to get healthy," said McKay, Portageville head coach. "They're playing a lot better football right now. They were running a Wing-T on offense and now they've gone to some power football and that has made them a lot better offensively. They play some pretty tough teams on their schedule and that makes them pretty tough by district time."
Portageville's Dantwan Chillers has carried the Bulldog offense this year. He's gained 851 yards this year on the ground, scoring 15 touchdowns.
But he's not the only weapon in the arsenal. Aaron Bidewell has rushed for 326 yards, Kyle Ezell has 303 yards and freshman Antonio Scott has 298 yards.
Mark Mudd has caught six passes for 150 yards.
"We play a lot of different running backs," said McKay. "We usually try to keep our running backs pretty rested. We're going to have to be in good condition. Every game seems to get bigger when you get to this time of the year. This is a big rivalry, but we just have to take them one at a time and get ourselves ready to play."
Malden has defeated Portageville four out of the last five times, but the Bulldogs enter this week's game as the favorite, which at the beginning of the year seemed far-fetched.
"Especially since both teams have been put in this district, it's been one or the other (winning the district) most of the time," said Collier. "The kids haven't talked much about the rivalry part of it. They know it's a big game and they know how good Portageville is and it's a major challenge for us. We have to reduce our mistakes to a very minimum because Portageville doesn't make mistakes."
One area where the Green Wave might have an edge is on the offensive and defensive lines. The average weight of a Malden offensive lineman is 249 pounds, compared to Portageville's 204 pounds.
Plus, all of Malden's starting offensive line are seniors. Portageville starts two sophomores and two juniors.
"They've got quite a few of their offensive linemen returning from last year," said McKay. "They're big and they're physical and it's just taken them a while to get their backs lined out. They just load up and play power football and that kind of concerns me."
In the other District 1 game, East Prairie travels to Caruthersville, both sitting at minus-13 in the district standings. Both teams have been down this year, posting identical 1-7 records, making Friday's Portageville-Malden look even more like a championship game.
So is McKay surprised at the quick turnaround his team has made this season?
"I never really took us out of the picture," said McKay. "I told the kids from the start that a lot of it (winning and losing) is up in their head. At first they didn't really know if that was true or not but I think they're starting to realize that a lot of it is mental."