[Nameplate] Fair ~ 82°F  
High: 89°F ~ Low: 73°F
Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Bulldogs set to battle top-ranked Crusaders

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Charleston defenders attempt to tackle Aaron Bidewell.
PORTAGEVILLE - The Portageville Bulldogs have gone head to head with the best small schools in Southeast Missouri and Western Tennessee.

Now they will face the top-ranked Class 2 school in the state of Missouri when they host Lutheran North tomorrow at 7 p.m. in a quarterfinal game.

It's Portageville's first quarterfinal appearance since 1997. The Bulldogs went on to defeat a heavily-favored Lutheran North team that year 34-33 to reach the state semifinals. But that was a different era.

The Crusaders, winners of five state championships with the last coming in 1999, appear to be as strong as ever heading into Monday's game.

Lutheran North, a private school in St. Louis, has been ranked No. 1 all year and hasn't even come close to losing.

"While it's a nice thing to have it really doesn't mean a whole lot when you get down to this point, whether you're No. 1, No. 6 or No. 10, if you got this far then you're a pretty good football team and you better strap it on and be ready to play," said Crusader head coach Jim Manion. "That's the way we look at it. We're not enamored with our position. We just do the best we can."

The Crusaders have done fine so far as they have vanquished such high profile teams as Ste. Genevieve (41-27), MICDS (33-17) and defending Class 2 state champion John Burroughs (21-0).

And judging by their 37-13 whipping of Principia in the sectionals, the Crusaders don't appear to be losing any steam.

"I think they'll really be strong -- but we see it as a challenge," said Portageville head coach Jim McKay. "This is what you play for. We're going to have to play them eventually so it might as well be now."

Lutheran North averages 37 points per game while allowing just under 10 points per game.

The Crusaders run a balanced offense of power and option football while throwing enough to keep defenses honest. Most plays will be run out of the I-formation or split back sets.

The Bulldogs also offer up an enormous line headlined by 6-foot-7, 320-pound Tim Downs and 6-4, 310-pound Kerry Rounds.

"The main thing is they've got exceptional size on their offensive line," said McKay. "We think we've got a little size with tackles at 220 and 230. They've got tackles at 300, so it's a big difference."

Running behind the huge line is tailback Jeff Horton who has rushed for 1,674 yards while averaging almost 10 yards per carry. He has scored 18 touchdowns.

Quarterback Jon Mueller is an efficient passer, completing 40-of-88 attempts for 935 yards with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Jeff Leslie is Mueller's favorite target, catching 11 passes for 391 yards with seven scores.

"They've got good size, good speed and they've played real good competition all year," said McKay. "Of course they always have a good program. They come out of that ABC League."

Portageville offers up a power running game designed to keep the clock and the chains moving, all-the-while keeping the opponents' offense on the sidelines.

"A lot of the people they've played they've been able to take it and run at them and do it well," said Manion. "And they mix in the pass a little bit to kind of loosen them up so people can't just put nine people up in the box. The combination looks like it's worked for them pretty well."

Portageville (9-1) is coming off a heart-stopping 6-0 win against Charleston in the sectional in which the Bulldogs stopped the Bluejays on the 1-yard line with 30 seconds left to win the game.

While the win was nice, McKay expressed some obvious concerns in his offense's inability to put points on the board.

"We've had problems off and on all year in the red zone and I don't know why," said McKay. "I think we're probably getting a little too conservative and we need to spread the thing out a little bit and do a better job in the red zone. We've got to do a whole lot better job this week than we did last week."

Portageville is led by the three-headed monster at running back. Sophomore Antonio Scott leads the team with 886 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns. Senior Aaron Bidewell has 683 yards with 1

Quarterback Lance Penn has thrown for 581 yards with five scores and six interceptions.

Bidewell leads the team with 20 receptions for 353 yards and three scores.

Portageville outscores its opponents 33 to 11. It's only loss came to powerful Bruceton (Tenn.) 28-7 in Week 7.

The Crusaders will be favored once again, but like '97, they will be making the long bus trip to the Bootheel.

"From the kids' standpoint I think it's an exciting thing to be able to go someplace else and see what it's all about," said Manion. "But it can be a negative in terms of the wear and tear of having to get off the bus and then crank it up and play. It's a concern, but there's not a whole lot we can do about it. Hopefully it won't be a factor."