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Collins scores 4 TDs, leads FC to triumph

DECATUR — Like Superman, Franklin County quarterback JamieCollins came to the rescue in a dire situation.

With a leap in his step and a turn in his stride, Collins pickedup his cape and took off into the moonlight Friday night. The6-foot-4, 210-pound junior had just eluded every Newton Countyplayer he faced and carried his FC Bulldogs to one of the mostdramatic playoff victories in school history with a 43-23 win thatsaw Collins rush for 4-straight touchdowns, plus grab aninterception while playing safety.

“I just did what I had to do,” said a sweat-soaked Collins afterthe game. “It was time to make some big plays. We weren’t going tolose.”

Collins finished with a career-high 155 yards rushing on 19carries, and threw for 67 yards on 7-of-8 passing. On defense heregistered three tackles, broke up two passes, and had a pick.

The Bulldogs (11-2) will host Raleigh (10-2) for the 3A SouthState Championship Friday night in Meadville’s Louie MullinsMemorial Stadium. Raleigh dispatched Tylertown 42-6.

In the North Mississippi finals, Corinth(9-4) is at Louisville(10-3).

“We move on to the next round and live to play another week,”said FC head coach Grady McCluskey, who made sure his team wouldn’tgive up with clutch speeches and attention getters throughout thegame. “Newton County hurt us in the first half. At halftime I toldour guys that I loved them and that we would come out of this.”

Down 23-7, in a first half marred by turnovers and mistakes, theBulldogs got a momentum boost right before halftime with a JamieCollins TD run from 10-yards out to cut Newton County’s celebratedlead to 23-14 at intermission.

Collins was just warming up.

On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Collinstook a keeper 67 yards untouched to the end zone. Moments later, headded a 9-yard TD plunge to put FC ahead for sure at 28-23. A fewminutes after that, he added the dagger off a 14-yard draw that washighlighted by Collins running over four Newton County defenders enroute to the goal line. For good measure he added a two-pointconversion run seconds later.

“He’s the best player in the state,” said a smiling FC offensivecoordinator Jeremy Loy following the game. “He flat-out took overtonight.”

And with Collins in gear, the Bulldogs never looked back, addinga Jordan Hunt 13-yard touchdown run late in the fourth period toquiet any doubts and win walking away.

“When you score 43 points, you’re doing something right,” saidMcCluskey “We did a good job. (Offensive coordinator) Jeremy Loycalled a good game. Our quarterback did a good job, he ran the ballthe hard.”

And McCluskey’s defense also stepped up. Spear-headed by Tillmancousins Josh and Bo, Franklin County hit Newton County hard in thesecond half, with a barrage of body shots that left many Cougarplayers dazed.

“Josh Tillman and Bo Tillman shut down the whole offense,” saidNewton County head coach Jeff Breland after the game. “We couldn’tblock them. That’s the first time in 22 years I’ve had two peoplewhip an offense, but those two did it.”

An Ole Miss commitment, Josh Tillman ( 6-5, 250), seniordefensive end, made 12 tackles, a sack, and recovered a fumble. BoTillman (6-6, 300), a defensive lineman, added 12 hits as well,plus a sack, and deflected four passes with pinball machine likemaneuvers.

“I told Bo to get his hands up,” said Josh Tillman, who alsodeflected a pass. “We started coming up more, and got to them.”

FC senior linebacker Carlos Johnson added seven hits andrecovered a fumble. Bobby O’Quinn and Jordan Hunt each forcedfumbles. Garcia Vaughn added a sack.

“Defense was lights out in the second half,” said McCluskey.”Lights out!”

Before the start of the fourth quarter, McCluskey gathered hisentire team for a meeting and prayer along the plush sidelines. TheBulldogs quickly drew energy from one another during the stance,which included a pep talk from McCluskey about getting the jobdone.

“Right there, we knew we had this game won,” said Jamie Collins,reflecting back.

Franklin County Principal M.D. Bilbo, a veteran FCadministrator, who had T-shirts printed for the team inscribed asRoad Warriors for the Bulldogs repeat goals before the playoffsbegan, definitely termed the right slogan for this year’s unit. TheBulldogs overcame both road and scoreboard deficit to win Fridayevening. FC has won six straight road playoff games, dating back to2002.

“The goal is to bring another state championship back toFranklin County,” said FC sophomore Damien Burnett. “Our team wantsit, our coaches want it, our teachers want it, and our fans wantit. And we want to give it to them.”

Burnett (5-10, 155), a wing back/defensive back, carried theball twice for 15 yards and caught a pass for seven yards Fridaynight to keep several FC drives going. On defense he made threetackles and deflected a pass.

Newton County (11-2) got two passing touchdowns from senior QBCasey Edwards of 21 and 42 yards in the first half. SpeedsterMichael Granger, a 3A track and field gold medalist, returned akickoff 75 yards.

FC junior running back Alex Smith eclipsed 100-yards with 14rushes for 102 yards and a touchdown. Jordan Hunt added 28 yardsrushing on five carries and a score.