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Bulldogs brace for Morton’s passes

MEADVILLE — The Morton Panthers plan to fill the air withfootballs Friday night in Louie Mullins Memorial Stadium as thedefending 3A state champion Franklin County Bulldogs host thePanthers in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.

Kickoff is 7 p.m.

The Bulldogs (9-2) dismantled Sumrall last week 21-3, behind astrong defense. Morton, headlined by an arsenal of speed on offenseand heavy hitters on defense, is a force. The Panthers beatHazlehurst 46-34 last week in a game that wasn’t even thatclose.

“We pulled our defense at the end of the third quarter when we wereup 46-12,” said Morton coach David Parker. “We know this Fridaynight will be our biggest game of the season.”

And so does FC head coach Grady McCluskey. The Bulldogs are tryingto become the first team in the Southwest Mississippi area torepeat as champions.

“Once you get this far into the season every team you play isbalanced and dangerous,” said McCluskey. “We’ve got to be ready. Ingames like this the team that makes the fewest mistakes and theleast amount of turnovers will win.”

Franklin County will have its hands full with a Morton team that isfinally clicking on all cylinders after a mid-season bout ofinjuries and suspensions that robbed the Panthers of a top twofinish in Region 5-3A. The Panthers are 6-5 overall.

“We’ve been working hard all season, and improving as we go.” addsParker. “We like to spread the ball around a lot and try makethings happen offensively.”

Dedric McDonald, the Panthers’ 6-foot-4, 210-pound seniorsparkplug, leads the Panthers on offense as a dual threat passerand runner at quarterback. Through the air, McDonald has thrown 16touchdown passes, with blazing 6-2, 195-pound target Antonio Hughesbeing his go-to guy. Sophomore speedster Deonte Harper also is aplaymaker at wide out.

“They have a lot of weapons,” said McCluskey after reviewing filmon the Panthers.

On the ground, the Panthers use a tailback rotation consisting ofsophomore Percy Lewis and senior Shareef Dixon.

“This is a good ball club, and quite possibly the best team we maysee this season” continued McCluskey. “They are very similar toJefferson County, especially on offense.”

The Bulldogs scored a 21-3 victory at Sumrall last week. The 3Adefending champions have opened the eyes of Parker on film as well,with their immense size and speed.

“They are big and strong and will be the best team we’ve seen allseason,” said Parker. “They are the defending champions, and inorder to be the champions, you’ve got to beat the champions.”

All-Star Tillmans

Josh Tillman, Franklin County’s powerful 6-5, 250-pound defensiveend leads the Bulldogs defensively. Tillman registered 10 tacklesand forced a fumble in which he recovered against Sumrall lastweek. For the season, Tillman has 75 tackles and 15 sacks.

Last week Josh and his cousin Bo Tillman, a 6-6, 300-pounddefensive lineman, were named to the Mississippi All-Star roster asparticipants in the 2007 Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Classic onDec. 15 in Mobile, Alabama. Both were preseason All-Statenominees.

“Defensively them two are hard to contain,” added Parker. “FranklinCounty is a very talented team.”

Bulldog Bites: In 1996, Franklin County lost toMorton in its first-ever meeting, during the first round of the 3Aplayoffs at Morton. The Bulldogs could not slow down, Morton’sall-time leading rusher that night in Deuce McAllister. The formerOle Miss great and current New Orleans Saint got loose for 207yards and scored two touchdowns in a 30-6 route of theBulldogs.

The Panthers and Bulldogs have yet to cross paths in any sportsince that encounter.