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Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016

Portageville's biggest test yet

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Antonio Scott
Red-hot Bulldogs to face Tennessee power

BRUCETON, Tenn. -- You thought Hayti was tough? Well get a load of Tennessee power Bruceton.

The Tigers have size. They have speed. And they've got a tradition strong enough to grab any team's attention, regardless of size.

No question about it, Portageville's stiffest test of the season comes on Friday.

"My son and I have a farm about three miles outside of Bruceton," said Portageville coach Jim McKay. "They've been a powerhouse ever since we've been over there. They play any and everybody, and always do real well. They've got an outstanding program. This will be the toughest team we've played up to this point, plus we're traveling a long ways."

Patrick Willis
Bruceton enters Friday's game with a record of 5-2, with both losses coming to much larger schools.

Their marquee player is running back Patrick Willis. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is a coveted Division-I prospect drawing interest from SEC schools Tennessee, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

He is averaging 11.3 yards per carry, having rushed for 1,195 yards on 106 carries. He is the top rusher in West Tennessee.

"From what we've seen on film, he's going to be a big challenge," said McKay. "They've got him, a couple of other big backs and a big line in front of him. We'll have our hands full. We've played some good backs, but not one as big as him. He's about 220, and has good speed and moves with it."

Willis has scored 20 touchdowns in seven games.

"He's a tremendous athlete," said Bruceton coach Rod Sturdivant. "He can do a lot of things on the football field. He plays an integral part, I'd say."

Willis also leads Bruceton's defense. At middle linebacker, he leads the team with 79 tackles. He has four sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery.

Bruceton quarterback Josh Edwards has thrown for 279 yards on 15-of-46 passing. Receiver Michael Aldridge is his favorite target, hauling in seven receptions for 175 yards with two TDs.

Bruceton's offense has punted just eight times all year. They run a multiple-I formation.

"They don't try to fool you or anything, they just play good, hard-nosed football," said McKay. "They just line up and come straight at you. They're not going to finesse you."

Portageville doesn't have a weapon like Willis, but its M.O. of not making mistakes and using a balanced attack has worked so far. The Bulldogs enter the game with a record of 5-0, having outscored its opponents 188 to 30.

Antonio Scott leads the ground attack with 515 yards on 62 carries. Kyle Ezell has 423 yards on 58 attempts, and Aaron Bidewell has 311 on 55 carries.

Quarterback Lance Penn will make his second start, recently returning from an injury. He has thrown for 105 yards on 6-of-17 passing.

"We're going to have to spread it around, that's the kind of offense we've got," said McKay. "We don't try to depend on one person. We're kind of gradually adding more passing now that Lance Penn is back. Jordan (Penn) was doing a good job, but Lance is a three-year starter."

Danny Scherer has four catches for 70 yards and Bidewell had three for 60.

"We know they have a good football team," said Sturdivant. "I think it's a good opportunity for both schools to play a team from another state. We played Kennett last year and it was a big thrill for our kids."

Last year Bruceton didn't just play Kennett -- they killed them.

Final score: Bruceton 57, Kennett 28

Still, Sturdivant isn't licking his chops at the opportunity to face another team from the SEMO Conference.

"I think it will be a much closer game," he said. "Coach McKay does an outstanding job and they're very sound. They're not going to beat themselves by any stretch of the imagination. They seem to have a good stable of running backs, and their quarterback does an outstanding job of directing their offense."

In the last 13 years, Bruceton has reached the playoffs 10 times. They've claimed one state championship in that span, and took second on two occasions.

Sturdivant is in his 21st year as head coach, compiling a career record of 200-61 at the school. The Tigers are Class 1A in Tennessee's five-class system. This year Bruceton has outscored its opponents 255 to 97.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in Bruceton.