Franklin Co. seeks 3A title Sat.

Published 6:00 am Thursday, November 30, 2006

JACKSON – Gary Rogers may have said it best about FranklinCounty’s State Championship showdown with the undefeated NettletonTigers this Saturday at 3 p.m. in Jackson’s Mississippi VeteransMemorial Stadium.

“This has been on my Christmas list since 9th grade,” said asmiling Rogers. “This is the game, I’ve been waiting all my lifefor.”

And now its mere hours away.

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Rogers, Franklin County’s 6-foot, 245-pound punisher atlinebacker, leads Franklin County’s hopes of claiming the StateChampionship this Saturday, against an air-it-out Nettletonclub.

“They like to pass and can score quick,” said Bulldogs headcoach Grady McCluskey. “They have a high powered offense, that’sgoing to be a challenge for us.”

McCluskey’s Bulldogs (13-1) beat speedy, defending Class 3Achampion Hazlehurst last week 21-7 for the South StateChampionship. The Bulldogs have not been to state since 1994.

“It feels good to be in the championship,” added McCluskey.”This is something you work towards the whole year.”

Two touchdowns runs by quarterback Jamie Collins and a scorefrom running back Preston Griffith helped the Bulldogs cement thevictory. For the year Griffith has rushed for 1,478 yards.

On defense, Rogers had 15 tackles. Junior defensive tackle BoTillman collected seven hits, a sack, and an interception. MikeHunt added seven hits and two pass breakups.

“This is it,” said Bulldogs senior safety Mike Hunt. “Everyoneon our team is going to have to step up come Saturday. You don’tget to play for a State Championship every day.”

Rogers (140 tackles, 2 Int) and Hunt (92 tackles, 4 Int) leadthe Franklin County defense, along with senior defensive endBrandon Collins (88 tackles and 17 sacks). The Bulldogs defense isgiving up a mere 10.4 points a game.

“On film, Franklin County is very impressive,” said Nettletoncoach Scott Cantrell. “We are going to have be very careful aroundthem.”

The Tigers (14-0) are led by junior quarterback Jami Boland(5-9, 160), who likes to fill the air with footballs, working outof the shotgun formation. Boland has passed for 2,927 yards andthrown for 41 touchdowns for the season.

Boland threw five touchdown passes last week en route toNettleton’s 55-22 North State championship victory over Ripley.

“We are a 60-40 passing to running team,” adds Cantrell. “Ourrunning back Lance Dixon (1,280 rushing yards), came back from atorn ACL, which he sustained in late August.”

Senior wideout Jeremy Word (952 yds, 12 TDs) and juniorLaderrius Cole (499 yds, 10 TDs) pace Nettleton’s passing attack,which is averaging 38.9 points per game. Word, in his first year toplay football, has blazing 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash.

“Our offense has scored a lot of points this year, but ourdefense does a pretty good job too,” said Nettleton senior freesafety Rashad Hoskins. “We play hard every down.”

Hoskins (5-9, 165) leads the Nettleton defense with fourinterceptions. Senior linebacker Will Hawkins (5-11, 165) is theteam’s leading tackler with 228 tackles and four sacks. Nose guardDarron Thornton (6-1, 190) has collected 168 tackles and recoveredtwo fumbles for the season.

“This is a big game for all of us,” said Thornton. “Our seniorswant this game bad.”

The Tigers are paced by 15 seniors on their squad, whileFranklin County has 13 seniors on its roster.

“May the best team win,” said Rogers. “Because all I want forChristmas is a championship ring!”

CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES: This will mark the first 1-versus-2 Class 3Ashowdown since 1999 in the championship game. The Tigers, rankednumber one in The Associated Press Class 3A Prep Poll, have neverbeen to the State Championship. The Bulldogs ranked number two,will be making their second championship appearance.

Many of the Nettleton players have dedicated this season tofallen teammate Christopher “Chris” Thomas who died in a one-caraccident Nov. 19, 2005. Nettleton will be the home team, while theBulldogs will be the visitors.