PORTAGEVILLE - If there is one phrase that area coaches associate with Portageville football, it's "mistake-free."
For head coach Jim McKay and his Bulldogs, that's not a bad phrase to have pinned to your squad.
But last week against Bruceton (Tenn.), the Bulldogs proved mortal, turning the ball over three times while committing a couple of costly penalties.
Malden will hope for the same such luck on Friday night at 7:30 when they travel to meet Portageville at Vic Reaves Stadium in the opener of Class 2, District 1.
"They've beaten some really good people," said Malden head coach Kevin Collier. "They're playing typical Coach McKay and Portageville football. They don't make many mistakes."
And there, once again, lies the secret to Portageville's success.
The Bulldogs (5-1) have come from the depths of the unranked in the area, to defeating a seemingly invincible Hayti team and being ranked No. 4 in the region behind only the larger schools.
Now McKay is hoping that last week's loss to Bruceton, the Bulldogs' first of the year, won't have his team rattled against the Green Wave, which just happens to be one of Portageville's biggest rivals.
"I'm anxious to see how they rebound," said McKay. "We didn't play very well but part of that's probably because Bruceton was tough. Portageville and Malden has always been a big rivalry. And it'll be a tough ballgame for us. They've played a pretty tough schedule up to this point."
As if bragging rights and district ramifications weren't enough, the Bulldogs also are in the driver's seat in the SEMO South Conference with a one game lead on Hayti. A loss to Malden would force a tie.
"We just kind of take them one at a time," said McKay. "This is the fourth tough one in a row for us. Every game that we've ever played with Malden has been tough."
Malden (3-4) has definitely had its share of success against the Bulldogs, dominating the series all the way back to even before McKay's first stint as Portageville's head coach. Although the Green Wave lead the overall series by a scant 30-26-1, they have won 27 of the last 39 games played between the two rivals.
But Portageville won 20-0 last season. And they did it the way they've done every team -- controlling the football.
Collier has a plan to offset the scheme.
"We've got to be effective in our running game and try to control the clock a little bit ourselves," said Collier. "Everybody that's played them has tried to do the same things. You need to put them in long yardage situations and try to get them to do the things they don't want to do."
One thing Portageville doesn't want to do is throw the ball, something they've only done 38 times this year, including a season-high 16 times last week.
Quarterback Lance Penn has completed 12 passes for 197 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Bulldogs are most effective churning out yards on the ground. Sophomore Antonio Scott leads the way with 601 yards on 70 carries with seven scores.
Kyle Ezell follows up with 456 yards with five TDs and Aaron Bidewell has added 317 yards with six scores.
Malden counters with a more balanced offensive scheme. The Green Wave are led by quarterback Scott Matthews, who has completed 43-of-85 passes for 642 yards with four TDs and five interceptions.
Talented, but oft-injured Karrington Rogers is the top target, catching 16 passes for 296 yards. He also has 255 rushing yards on 26 carries with three TDs.
He sat out in last week's 41-0 in against Chaffee with a concussion. Although he has been held out of full contact this week in practice, he is expected to be ready to go for Friday.
Malden has also had a few other injuries, including a season-ending one to Richard Marks due to a broken arm.
"We've had some kids go down the last couple of weeks, but that's part of football unfortunately," said Collier. "You've just got to have some kids step up and play well. A lot of kids stepped in last week and did a good job."
John Sutton, a 240-pound fullback, has rushed for a team-leading 404 yards on 90 carries with five TDs. Jamall Kilgore follows up with 341 yards on 69 carries. He leads the team with seven touchdowns.
"They've always had a lot of speed," said McKay. "They've got a big fullback, a pretty good sized line and a quarterback that seems to throw the ball well. So they've got the tools to have a good ballclub."