Louisville KOs Franklin County

Published 6:00 am Monday, December 10, 2007

JACKSON — Like two powerful heavyweight prize fighters, theFranklin County Bulldogs and Louisville Wildcats went toe-to-toeSaturday for the Class 3A State Football Championship. Deliveringthe knockout punch for Louisville was 185-pound Dennis Thames, aspeedster with an eye for the football.

Thames returned two interceptions for Louisville touchdowns. Hedisplayed explosive speed and quickness on the returns. The theftsput the Bulldogs on the canvas but they regained their composureand kept battling.

For sure, Thames deserved the MVP award. As a wide receiver, hetook a short pass from Clayton Moore 16 yards for a touchdown,pushing Louisville up 21-0 in the third quarter.

For sure, Thames is a Wildcat. A cat’s paw and No. 14 wereneatly engraved on the back of his head by an artistic barber. Hesmiled broadly and accepted congratulations from teammates andfriends after the game.

A junior, Thames will rank high on every college coach’s wishlist this summer.

“I got a letter from Ole Miss,” answered Thames, when askedabout college contacts. He still has his senior season ahead ofhim.

Franklin County coach Grady McCluskey praised Thames for hisperformance. “I think No. 14 will be the best in the state nextyear. He’s fast and he is so instinctive. He’s a heckuvalinebacker. He’s a great player.”

Louisville coach Brad Peterson also lavished praise on hisgifted athlete. “Dennis is a special football player. I know he canplay college football.”

Peterson said the 67-yard interception return by Thames changedthe complexion of the game. “It changed our game plan.

“It was a heavyweight bout,” Peterson added. “We delivered thefirst punch.”

Asked about his first interception, Thames said, “I was playingthe run but I saw the ball. After I caught it, I saw somebody on myleft and I cut back. Then I was open. I could see the endzone.”

Given an omen of things to come, one of Franklin County’s greatplayers, Bo Tillman, went down with an ankle injury on the firstinterception by Thames. Tillman was playing right offensive tackleat the time.

Tillman’s ankle was heavily wrapped with tape and he returned toaction. However, the 6-foot-6, 300-pound athlete was not at fullspeed. The injury probably hurt him more on defense because itaffected his lateral movement.

Every athlete needs good wheels to function on the playingfield. Tillman had one flat tire and it hurt.

“That ankle really slowed me down,” said Tillman. “I tried mybest but it was hard to move.”

Tillman and his cousin, defensive lineman Josh Tillman, arescheduled to play in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Classic, Dec.17, in Mobile, Ala. Only time will tell if Bo is ready for that. Hehas eight days to heal.

Also in the Classic from this area are Brookhaven quarterbackCharles (Bobo) Rancifer and wide receiver Simmie Yarborough. Theyleave Wednesday for all-star practice.

Although Franklin County failed in its attempt to winback-to-back state titles, the Bulldogs and their large followingof fans from towns like Bude, Roxie, Lucien, McCall Creek, Monroeand Meadville; had nothing to be ashamed of. They posted a 12-3record and made a courageous march through the playoffs afterfinishing fourth in the Region 7-3A race.

“We ran into a really good football team today,” said McCluskey.”They are probably the best team Franklin County has played inseveral years.”

On the bright side, McCluskey and his coaches were preachingpositive advice for the disappointed young men who packed theirnavy and gold uniforms in the dressing room. “I don’t want to seeyou hanging your heads. You can be right back here next year if youwork hard.”

McCluskey loses three starters on offense and four on defense.Franklin County’s winning tradition should continue in 2008.

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