MALDEN ---- From sprinting off the field with his fists clenched following the opening coin toss to banging his player's shoulder pads and urging them to fight harder in the second half, it was very apparent that Malden coach Kevin Collier wanted a win in the worst way Friday night.
It took a two-point conversion stop in the final minutes to get it.
The Green Wave kept the SEMO conference's leading rusher out of the end zone with 1:33 remaining, then recovered the ensuing onside kick to hang on to thrilling 28-27 victory over Charleston.
Ordinarily quiet and conservative, Collier was adamant and emotional on the sidelines against the Bluejays.
He pumped his firsts on first downs. Hugged linemen after defensive stops. When Aaron Prenger stuffed Orrice Stanback in the backfield to preserve a one-point victory, he thrust both arms in the air in celebration.
"There's no question we were fired up," Collier said. "We knew that we had to play with a lot of fire tonight."
Even though it was only Week 5 of the regular season, this was a must-win situation for Malden. The Green Wave stumbled through three consecutive lopsided losses, losing to Class 1, No. 2 Hayti, defending Class 2 state champion John Burroughs and Class 3 rival Dexter by a combined score of 100-34 the previous three weeks.
Practices were extended to 7 p.m., drills were ran with water-soaked footballs to help eliminate silly turnovers and the coaching staff continually preached confidence. But it meant nothing without positive results.
"We needed a win in the worst way," Collier said. "They're great kids and they practiced their rear ends off this week. They deserved this win."
Malden (2-3) appeared to have its first victory since beating Scott City in Week 1 wrapped up when Karrington Rogers broke two tackles and darted into the endzone to give the Green Wave a 28-13 lead with just over seven minutes remaining. But just as soon as Rogers had landed from his celebratory leaping high-five, Charleston (1-4) was back within striking distance.
A.H. Marshall found Nelson French in the corner of the end zone, then ran in a two-point conversion to cut the lead to 28-21 with 4:22 left.
After forcing a three-and-out by the Malden offense, the Bluejays got the ball back on the Green Wave 37-yard line. Five plays later, Stanback broke loose for a 23-yard score to make it 28-27.
With his holder nursing an injured thumb and having already missed one PAT in the third quarter, Charleston coach Brent Anderson opted to give the ball to Stanback on a pitch to the left side instead of going for the tie. Waiting in the open field was Prenger, who tripped up Stanback for a loss.
"At that point, I felt like we were moving the football well enough to go for it," Anderson said. "It was a one-on-one situation with our best player on a linebacker, and the kid made a play. All you can do is tip your hat to the kid. He made a great open-field tackle on one of the best players in the area, if not the state."
Malden recovered the ensuing onside kick, then sealed the victory when Scott Matthews hit Kyle Jones over the middle for a 11-yard gain on third-and-10.
"This is a big turn for us," Matthews said. I'm not sure how far we would have made it, or if we would have made the playoffs at all, if we wouldn't have won this."
Stanback, the area's leading rusher with 837 yards coming in, had 149 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns, including a 56-yard second-quarter scamper that put Charleston ahead 7-0. Minus two long TD runs, Stanback averaged just 2.6 yards a carry and was stopped for a loss or no gain seven times.
The Green Wave had little success with their running game ---- 36 attempts for 119 yards ---- which has translated into trouble this season. But a breakout game by Matthews picked up the slack.
Matthews connected on 13-of-18 passes for 180 yards ---- all season highs ---- and one touchdown in his best outing of the year. The southpaw's previous best performance was last week's 105 yards against Dexter.
"He shocked me. He had a great game," said Rogers, who hauled in four passes for 80 yards. "Scott is back there taking some hits, but he's learning to throw the ball in the pocket and not taking off running all the time. That's what we need out of him."
Matthews completed 11 of his first 14 attempts to open the game, including a 23-yard touchdown strike over the middle to Adam Neal that tied the game at 7 midway through the second quarter. Matthews completed passes to six different receivers ---- his longest a 65-yarder to Rogers on the Green Wave's second play from scrimmage.
"We were very scared of what they would do through the air, but I didn't anticipate them throwing that many times," Anderson said. "As the game went on, we felt like they were going to throw more and more because there was some stuff that I saw that they could do against us. If we can see it, he can sure see it."
Malden took its first lead against an opponent since the first quarter of Week 2 when Jamall Kilgore scooted in from two yards out with 3:05 remaining in the first half. A blocked punt set up the score.
The Green Wave opened the second half with a 14-play, 69-yard scoring drive to go ahead 21-7. John Sutton capped the six-minute drive with a one-yard plunge.
Charleston took the ensuing kickoff down to the Malden 16 before quarterback A.H. Marshall was picked off in the end zone by Rogers. But the Bluejays caught a break when Rogers brought the ball out of the end zone and was stripped. French fell on the loose ball to cut the deficit to 21-13.
Rogers redeemed himself with a 22-yard TD scamper on the next possession. The drive was kept alive by a 15-yard late-hit penalty against the Blue Jays after an incomplete pass on second-and-14. Kilgore led Malden with 53 yards rushing, followed by Rogers' 33 yards on four attempts.
Marshall was 7-of-15 for 120 yards and two interceptions for Charleston.
The Blue Jays, a Class 2 quarterfinalist last year, have lost six of their last seven meetings with the Green Wave and haven't won at Malden High School since 1996.
"I cannot figure this group of kids out. There's a lot of talent in that group, but there's not a lot of fight." Anderson said. "We have one kid that is working his butt off in the backfield and that's about it. They absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. They outplayed us and we were lucky to be that close."