(photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- Portageville's defense has made several big plays this year, but none were bigger than the tackle made by Spencer Martin and Antonio Scott on Wednesday night.
With 27 seconds left, the two corraled Charleston's Orrice Stanback at the 1-yard line to preserve a 6-0 victory in a Class 2 sectional game.
By winning the defensive battle, Portageville (9-1) will now host top-ranked Lutheran North in Monday's quarterfinal round at 7 p.m.
"I knew it would be a tough game," said Portageville head coach Jim McKay. "Charleston has been playing well lately and they've got good athletes. It was a tremendous effort on our team's part."
After a 9-yard run by Stanback, Martin stripped him of the ball at the Charleston 10. The Bulldogs capitalized on the turnover as Scott broke loose for a 10-yard TD run.
The PAT kick failed.
"One mistake cost us six points," said Charleston head coach Brent Anderson. "Then we were knocking on the doorstep there at the end. We just couldn't get it in. You kind of think to yourself, maybe it just wasn't meant to be."
Charleston had five turnovers in the loss, with four fumbles and one interception.
Portageville also had turnover problems with one fumble and three interceptions. The Bulldogs came into the game averaging 36 points a game, but were held to a season-low six points by Charleston's defense.
Portageville generated just 199 yards of offense in the win. "Our kids can play some defense," said Anderson. "We tried to stack it up in the box just like they did to us, stop the run, and make them throw. It worked with the exception of one play."
Portageville looked to add to its 6-0 lead on the first drive of the second half. The Bulldogs marched 76 yards, but a Lance Penn pass was intercepted on Charleston's nine-yard line.
Another chance to score came early in the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs were unable to convert on 4th-and-11 at the Charleston 17.
"If we could've scored a couple of times when we had the opportunity, it would've made things a lot easier," said McKay. "It was just their defense. I read a lot about their line being physical and tough, and it was. We tried to do everything we could, but they just stopped us."
Charleston's final possession started on its own 25 with 5:39 left in regulation. The Bluejays put together their most successful drive of the night, chipping the ball down to the Portageville 26. On 4th-and-3, Stanback broke off a 16-yard run to put the ball on the Portageville 10.
After a two-yard run by Stanback, Portageville's defense was whistled offsides, moving the ball down to the 4. After two plays netted just one yard, Charleston was faced with 4th-and-goal from the 3 with 34.8 seconds left.
"We knew this was the play," said McKay. "I told the defense, 'We either stop them here or take a chance of getting beat. I will tell you already, you're going to stop them, because that's the kind of kids you are.'
The Bluejays opted to give the ball to Stanback for the 32nd time. He ran to the right side of the field, picking up two yards before Martin and Scott stacked him up at the goal line and brought him down.
"I'm sure they knew we were going to give it to him," said Anderson. "But we were either going to win with him or we were going to lose with him. He's a great running back, and he's a great running back for a reason. That's because of the kids that surround him. The kids up front played so well all year and played pretty well tonight up against a great defense."
Stanback finished the game with 146 yards, giving him 2,125 on the season.
"He's an outstanding ball carrier," said McKay. "He runs hard, he's got good speed and he's got good moves. That's all it takes to make an outstanding back. He's got over 2,000 yards. That right there tells you what you're dealing with. He is as good as anybody we've played."
Portageville took over with 27 seconds left and ran a QB keeper up the middle to drain the clock and preserve the victory.
"It's disappointing, but I'm proud of the kids," said Anderson. "They played their wheels off. Portageville is a great football team, Coach McKay is as good as they get. His kids played an excellent football game, our kids played an excellent football game."
Charleston ends its season with a record of 5-6.
"I'm extremely proud of our season," said Anderson. "No one wants to lose, I don't know if anybody deserved to lose tonight. That goes down as an epic battle. That was one of the best high school football games I've been associated with."
Now McKay will set his sights on top-ranked and undefeated (11-0) Lutheran North, who was 37-13 winners over Principia.
"If I'm going to play them, I want to play them right now," said McKay. "Lutheran North always has a tremendous football team, I know they're the best team in the state. I would rather see them now than later on down the road."