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Thames leads Louisville to title

JACKSON — As the skies grew darker Saturday afternoon aboveVeterans Memorial Stadium, so did Franklin County’s repeat chances.A determined Louisville team, spearheaded by standout junior DennisThames, made sure of that by knocking off Franklin County 21-7behind Thames’ record setting three-touchdown, two interceptionperformance on a balmy 85-degree December afternoon.

“I’m just glad we won,” said Louisville head coach BradPeterson, who was soaked in Gatorade following the game.”In orderto be the champion, you had to beat the champion and tonight webeat a very good Franklin County team.”

The Bulldogs (12-3), who won last year’s 3A crown with a 23-13defeat of Nettleton, could not match up with Louisville’s (12-3)depth and speed. Louisville dropped down from 4A to 3A thisfall.

The Wildcats primary weapon Dennis Thames, a 5-11, 180-poundjunior playmaker at outside linebacker and on offense as areceiver, made an impact early by picking off two Jamie Collinspasses and returning them for touchdowns of 67 and 32 yardsrepsectively.

“I just read the quarterback’s eyes and grabbed em,” said asweat-soaked Thames following the game. “I watched film on him(Jamie Collins) the whole week. I watched how he threw the ball andhow he looked at his receivers when he released it. I knew we hadto make defense to win this game, and tonight we did.”

Thames finished with a game-high 12 tackles and twointerceptions. He also had 62 yards rushing on 8 carries, andcaught a touchdown pass from junior teammate Clayton Moore for 11yards in the third quarter to break any momentum the Bulldogs hadgoing after halftime.

“He’s the best player we faced this year,” said FC head coachGrady McCluskey when asked about Thames. “He has to be one of thebest players in the state, no doubt.”

When Thames wasn’t making things happen for Louisville, seniorrunning back Arnold Henderson was. The 5-10, 185-pounder rushed for71 yards on 12 carries, and kept several drives alive with sneakyoutside runs that baffled the Bulldogs.

Franklin County saw several offensive drives stall near the redzone. Louisville’s defense stopped the Bulldogs short several timeson key third and fourth down plays.

“We played our hearts out, but it just wasn’t meant to betonight,” added McCluskey. “They (Lousiville) are a well coachedteam and very strong. We knew we could’nt afford to turn the ballover against a team like that. They have several weapons, that canmake you pay.”

Franklin County scored late in the third quarter off a 1-yardplunge from Collins to cut the Louisville lead to 21-0. Collins ledthe Bulldogs offensively with 22 carries for 75 yards rushing. Healso was 3-of-10 through the air for 39 yards. He threw two firsthalf interceptions.

“We threw the ball late,” admitted McCluskey. “We took ourshots. We just didn’t convert.”

Louisville’s fans and players erupted in celebration as thefinal seconds ticked off the clock. Thames glady accpeted the 3Achampionship trophy on the Louisville’s behalf following thegame.

“It feels good to be a champion,” smiled Thames. “We beat a goodteam tonight. The defending 3A champion. But, now we’re thechampions. The new 3A champions.”

The Bulldogs, whose repeat dreams were shattered, huddled up onelast time after the game, exchanging hugs and tears en route to thedressing room.

“It hurts losing your last game, but still we had a good yearand we overcame a lot,” said McCluskey. “Many teams never get achance to play here, but we went back-to-back years. I’m proud ofmy team and all that they have accomplished these last twoseasons.”