Football teams enjoy sportlight

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, December 5, 2007

JACKSON — A brisk, northerly wind was blowing outside theMississippi Sports Hall of Fame Museum Monday morning. Indoors, theHall’s conference room was packed with a warm, rosy feeling ofaccomplishment.

“Congratulations to each of you coaches and your teams formaking it to the football state championships,” said Dr. EnnisProctor, executive director for the Mississippi High SchoolActivities Association. “I’m very proud of you. It’s a wonderfulexperience for you and your community.”

Certainly, reaching the MHSAA state football championship finalsis no small accomplishment. Remarkably, Franklin County is seekinga second straight Class 3A state championship.

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Franklin County head coach Grady McCluskey, assistant coachJeremy Loy, athletic director Johnny Monroe, principal M.D. Bilboand superintendent of education Lona Thomas were present for theaffair, plus Bulldog defensive linemen Josh and Bo Tillman.

Bo, at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, stood out like the Statue ofLiberty. He dwarfed most of the football players from the othernine schools. Josh (6-5, 255) is strong and tall, too.

McCluskey and his two players were interviewed, photographed,probed and questioned by newspaper, radio and televisionjournalists. They seemed to enjoy the sportlight.

“This is nothing new for us,” said McCluskey who coached theBulldogs to a 2006 state title. The goal is to beat LouisvilleSaturday and claim another championship ring.

It won’t be an easy task. Louisville is synonymous withhard-nosed, championship football. The Wildcats are one of thelargest 3A schools after dropping down from Class 4A this year.

A crowd estimated at 3,000 watched Franklin County overpowerRaleigh last Friday night in the South State title game held inMeadville. For sure, the folks love their Bulldogs.

They will bring a large crowd to Jackson Saturday when theBulldogs meet Louisville at 3 p.m. in Mississippi Veterans MemorialStadium. Franklin County will be the home team and Bulldog fanswill sit on the South (press box) side of the stadium.

Bilbo, a tall, gray-haired man, smiled with pride when he talkedabout his favorite team. “Our kids are real well-behaved. We neverhave discipline problems with them. A lot of them are honor rollstudents, too.”

Proctor pointed out that 75 championship medallions would beprovided for each team. “If you need more than 75, let us knowtoday.”

South Panola, a.k.a. the University of South Panola, is seekinga fifth consecutive Class 5A championship. The Tigers boast a74-game winning streak, the longest in Mississippi history. Theyare ranked nationally.

Lance Pogue, South Panola’s first-year head coach, inherited adynasty when Ricky Woods retired and moved to a coaching job inGeorgia. Pogue’s team hasn’t missed a beat.

“I want to congratulate all of the teams,” said Pogue, speakingfrom the podium. “Take advantage of this and enjoy the moment.”

Pogue’s Batesville-based Tigers are a unique group of countryboys who love to play football. Earlier in the season, Pogue saidonly 12 players on his 78-member varsity squad have their ownautomobiles. Obviously, their main recreation is football.

Each school is allotted tickets to be sold in advance. Admissionis $12 at the gate. Tickets may be purchased at the school for $10each. Proctor said 50 percent of the advance ticket sales would godirectly to the school.

FedEx, the chief corporate sponsor of the state championshipgames, is deeply involved in community affairs. “We care about thepeople and the communities in which we work,” said FedExrepresentative Ralph Young.

The games are scheduled to be televised, starting with Friday’s2A title game between Taylorsville (13-1) and West Bolivar (14-0)at 2:30 p.m. South Panola (14-0) will play George County (13-1) inthe 7 p.m., Class 5A title test.

On Saturday, defending state champion Puckett (13-0) plays RayBrooks (12-1) at 11 a.m. for the 1A title. After Franklin County(12-2) and Louisville (11-3) battle at 3 p.m., Laurel (13-1)tackles Noxubee County (12-2) for the 4A crown at 7 p.m.

It should be a great weekend for high school football!

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or