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Bulldogs gear up for another state title push

MEADVILLE — While many high school football teams were copingwith that empty, defeated feeling Friday night, Franklin County’sBulldogs were gathering momentum for another strong state playoffsurge. The 10-2 Bulldogs took a big bite out of Morton’s Panthersand eagerly anticipate a road game at Newton County in the SouthState Class 3A semifinals.

Franklin County junior quarterback Jamie Collins, also known asthe stick that stirs the drink, stood patiently near the 20-yardline, answering questions from the media. Most of his teammatesalready had left the field and were in the field house.

Collins, a slender 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, had stood tall inthe backfield against Morton. He rushed for 87 yards and atouchdown and passed for 152 yards and 2 touchdowns.

“We are picking it up right now,” said Collins. “We have to haveour ‘A Game’ every game. Like coach said, the talent is levelingout.”

Collins missed two region games with a back ailment and theBulldogs fell to Tylertown and Jefferson County on consecutiveFriday nights. Collins returned just in time to keep the Bulldogsalive in their quest for a second straight state championship.

Collins connected with Hunt on a pair of play-action passes onthe right corner. Hunt responded with shifty, tackle-breakingdashes of 59 and 57 yards in the second half.

“Morton wasn’t expecting us to pass on first down,” saidCollins. “They were biting on the run and didn’t expect it.”

Franklin County’s offensive line was heavily depleted bygraduation after last year’s state title run. There were plenty ofskill players returning but the offensive line would be the key tothe team’s success or failure.

“Our offensive line is pretty good,” said Collins. “They aresmall but they are doing a good job.”

The unsung heroes in the front trench are anchored by juniorcenter Jayce Carlock (6-0, 205). He also serves as the team’splacekicker.

“I hope we have another shot at the state title,” said Carlockas he walked to the field house. “Jamie is one of the bestquarterbacks in the state.”

Jordan Hunt (6-1, 215), a talented junior, proved to be the starof the show, taking two passes from Collins to the end zone andrushing for another. He is another in a long line of Hunts who havemade a name for themselves in football.

On defense, the Bulldogs were bulldog-tough. They made lifemiserable for Morton quarterback Dedric McDonald. On onesecond-half series, McDonald was smacked twice on consecutive playsby FC defensive tackle Josh Tillman (6-5, 245).

The Panthers did manage a first down at the FC 10 on a clutchpass completion but the Bulldogs stuffed 4 straight rushes and tookover at the 3-yard line.

Grady McCluskey, FC’s emotional head coach, has a passion forthe game and it is reflected in his team. When a Morton defenderattempted a crack-back block on wide receiver Jarvis King after aplay was blown dead, McCluskey went bonkers and screamed at theofficials.

It resulted in a 15-yard penalty against McCluskey but he wasmost concerned about King’s legs being injured by the cheap shot.Tempers boiled but Morton coach David Park apologized for hisplayer’s action.

After the game, handshakes were exchanged and the opposing teammembers echoed, “Good game,” as they passed in single file. Coolingoff and receiving congratulations from well-wishers, McCluskeyshowed his softer side in the shadows of the field house, bestowingkisses and hugs on his wife, son and daughter.

“I’m proud of our kids,” said McCluskey. “They played hard.”

McCluskey said Morton’s pass and catch skill players wereexceptional. “I knew they had some talent. We wanted to force themto run.”

McCluskey said he used three players in the defensive line:seniors Bo Tillman and Josh Tillman, and sophomore Bobby O’Quinn.That gave the Bulldogs 8 players on pass defense.

“We have the best defensive line in the state,” said McCluskey.Park agreed.

The Tillmans are both all-state caliber and O’Quinn has a brightfuture ahead of him.

“I was most impressed with No. 72 (O’Quinn),” said Park.

Opponents would agree that overall, the Bulldogs areimpressive.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com