Franklin readies to repeat

Published 12:26 am Saturday, November 24, 2007

DECATUR — For a quarter and a half Friday night, things were not going well for the defending MHSAA Class 3A State champion Franklin County Bulldogs.

Especially after the top-ranked Newton County Cougars scored 23 straight points to take a 16-point lead with 5:03 to go in the second quarter. But then Franklin County junior quarterback Jamie Collins took over.

Collins scored four straight touchdowns, all on the ground, to lead the Bulldogs from that double-digit deficit to a 43-23 win over the Cougars in the third round of the Class 3A South State Playoffs.

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Franklin County will host Raleigh next Friday at 7 p.m. for the Class 3A South State Championship and a berth in the State Championship game. Raleigh defeated Tylertown in another third-round playoff game.

“When you score 43 points, you’re doing something right,” Franklin County head coach Grady McCluskey said. “They did a good job. (Offensive coordinator Jeremy) Loy called a good game. Our quarterback did a good job. We rushed for 150, 160 yards.”

Actually, Collins rushed for 154 yards on 19 carries and completed seven of eight passes for 70 yards and no interceptions. And it was his 10-yard touchdown run with 1:17 to go until halftime that McCluskey said gave his team the momentum for the rest of the game.

Franklin County’s defense, which gave up 150 yards and 23 points in the first half, allowed just 25 yards, only one first down and no points in the second half. The Cougars only got past midfield once in the final two quarters.

“We made a lot of mistakes in the first half that kept them in the game,” McCluskey said. “The got a lot of points off special teams. At halftime, I told them I love them and we told them we thought we were the better team. We didn’t make any adjustments.”

Bo Tillman and Josh Tillman led the Bulldogs’ defense as they each had 12 tackles and one sack. Josh Tillman also had a fumble recovery. Bobby O’Quinn had eight tackles of his own. The defense also held Floyd Graves to just 51 yards rushing on 16 carries.

“They all played well. It’s hard to single one player out. Bo and Josh played exceptionally well,” McCluskey said.

After Franklin County’s Alex Smith, who had 96 yards rushing on 13 carries, scored the game’s opening touchdown with 9:37 to go in the first quarter, it appeared as if Newton County may have been on the verge of ending the Bulldogs’ season.

It started when Michael Granger returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown just 14 seconds later. Then with 10:40 to in the second quarter, Cory Edwards connected with Gabe Loper on a 21-yard touchdown pass to give the Cougars a 14-7 lead.

Newton County increased its lead to 16-7 nearly two minutes later when the ball sailed over the Franklin County punter’s head for a safety. Edwards then threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Granger at the 5:03 mark of the second quarter to take a 23-7 lead.

But there was no quit in the Bulldogs on this night. Collins scored his second touchdown of the game on the first play from scrimmage in the second half on a 60-yard run with 11:35 remaining in the third quarter. He then gave the visitors the lead on a 9-yard run with 2:04 to go in the quarter.

But Collins wasn’t done yet. He scored his fourth and final touchdown of the game with 2:23 left in the game on a 13-yard run and added a two-point conversion run. Jordan Hunt added a 13-yard scoring run of his own with just under a minute to go.