• 61°

Franklin Co. dethrones Indians

MEADVILLE — The Franklin County Bulldogs are South StateChampions!

For two hours Friday night, a capacity crowd of nearly 3,500watched a dominant defensive performance in Louie Mullins MemorialStadium by the Franklin County Bulldogs who left the defendingstate champion Hazlehurst Indians battled and bruised en route to a21-7 Bulldog victory.

Franklin County will face Nettleton for the Class 3A StateChampionship, Saturday at 3 p.m. in Jackson’s Mississippi VeteransMemorial Stadium. It will be the Bulldogs’ first trip back to statesince 1994. Nettleton beat Ripley 55-22 for the North StateChampionship.

“This is awesome,” said FCHS Bulldogs coach Grady McCluskeyabout going to the State Championship. “This is something we’veworked hard all year for, and tonight it paid off.”

The Bulldogs (13-1) were not to be denied as they hit Hazlehurst(10-3) with everything they had and then some. Franklin County’sdefensive unit, led by seniors Mike Hunt, Gary Rogers, BrandonCollins, and Greg Hunt, hit the Indians with an arsenal of blowsthat dislodged several Hazlehurst players’ chinstraps from theirhelmets.

“We came with it tonight,” said Bulldog defensive captain GaryRogers, who had a game- high 15 tackles. “Our defense never let upand we got it done. That’s what we’ve been doing all season.”

Rogers, a 6-foot, 240-pound senior linebacker, was a terror tothe Indians, as he knocked Hazlehurst running back Courtney Hallout of the game in the third quarter with an ankle sprain. Indianstailback Bobby Moore was sent packing in the first frame by afearless hit from Jordan Hunt and Brandon Collins.

“We stepped up and did what we had to do,” said Collins, theClass 3A sack leader with 17 for the season. “Our defense neverbacked down, and stopped them cold.”

Hazlehurst, the Class 3A defending champion, never got toutilize their speed attack as Franklin County quickly forced theIndians to abandon the run and to throw the ball.

“Our defense did an outstanding job,” said McCluskey.”Hazlehurst came in here averaging 42 points, and we held them toseven. That’s amazing!”

The Indians struck first in a game of first half big plays, byscoring off a Moore two-yard carry. The score was set up by a 47yard scamper from fullback Keyshon Reese to the Bulldog two.

“Our offense came out and did good, but that was it,” saidHazlehurst head coach Vernon Perry. “We played bad the rest of thefirst half. Some of our guys got hurt.”

Franklin County dominated the rest of the way, as quarterbackJamie Collins added two touchdowns runs of one and two yardsrespectively, in the first and second periods.

Bulldog senior running back Preston Griffith added a six-yardtouchdown run late in the second quarter to give FCHS a 21-7advantage after Jace Carlock’s extra-point.

The Bulldogs stopped a Hazlehurst scoring drive in the finalseconds of the second quarter, as Greg Hunt posted abuzzer-sounding tackle on Hall at the Bulldog three yard line.

“We never gave up,” said McCluskey. “Tonight was special.”

McCluskey watched his defense stop the Indians each and everytime in the second half. Rogers, Collins, and the Tillman cousins,Bo and Josh Tillman, delivered hit after hit to keep Hazlehurstscoreless in the third and fourth quarters.

“We played hard all four quarters, and in the end we did it,”said Josh Tillman, a 6-4, 240-pound junior defensive end. “It’sfeels good being South State Champions, but still our work isn’tdone.”

The South State Champion Bulldogs will play pass-happy NorthState champion Nettleton next for the Class 3A State Championship.The Bulldogs played Amory in the State Championship in 1994.

“We are going to the Big House,” said Rogers. “It’s a dream cometrue.”

Rogers led all hitters with 15 tackles and two quarterbackhurries. Collins added 10 hits and two sacks, while 6-6, 310-poundjunior defensive tackle Bo Tillman collected seven tackles, a sack,and grabbed an interception. Mike Hunt and Josh Tillman each addedsix hits. Greg Hunt finished with four tackles and three passbreakups.

For the Indians, senior defensive end Jazzmen Guy led with eighttackles. Reese and Robert Benson each had seven hits.

On offense, Griffith led all rushers with 112 yards on 18carries.

“We are playing for the golden ball next week,” said Griffithloudly after the game. “The big golden ball.”