Two first-half interceptions prove costly as Franklin Co. denied title

Published 12:46 am Sunday, December 9, 2007

JACKSON — The MHSAA Class 3A State Championship game came down to one thing. Louisville had Dennis Thames and Franklin County didn’t.

Thames, the Wildcats’ 180 pound, junior linebacker and running back made the state title game his personal playground, scoring three touchdowns, including two interception returns for touchdowns in the first half that gave Louisville all the points it would need in a 21-7 victory.

The championship is Louisville’s sixth, but its first in 3A after winning the other five in Class 4A. The Wildcats denied Franklin County’s attempt to repeat as 3A champion.

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“He’s the best player that we’ve played against since I’ve been here,” Franklin County head coach Grady McCluskey said of Thames. “He’s just got talent and instinct.”

Louisville coach Brad Peterson went one step farther, saying Thames has a chance to be one of the best players who has ever come through the tradition rich program.

“He’s a special football player,” Peterson said. “He’s a tremendous athlete and makes so many great plays.”

Thames made his first great play midway through the first quarter after Franklin County had taken the opening kickoff and driven down into Louisville territory.

Facing a third and 13 from the Wildcats’ 40-yard line, Bulldog quarterback Jamie Collins dropped back and tossed one over the middle. Thames got a hand on the ball, tipped it to himself, and then sprinted down the near sideline, leaving two would-be tacklers in his wake as he galloped 67 yards to the end zone.

The linebacker struck again two possessions later as the Bulldogs found themselves facing a third and 4 from their own 26. Collins tried to fire a pass toward the sidelines but Thames stepped in front and raced 31 yards to the paint for a 14-0 lead less than a minute into the second quarter.

“They had eight or nine in the box to stop the run so we took some chances and threw it,” McCluskey said. “Those (interception returns for scores) got us deep in the hole and we couldn’t get out of it. Both teams got seven offensive points but those points off turnovers killed us.”

Louisville upped its lead to 21-0 on its opening drive of the second half. Thames capped off a five-play, 58-yard drive by catching a screen pass from Clayton Moore and turning it into an 11-yard touchdown.

Franklin County finally put a good drive together late in the third quarter, driving 66 yards in eight plays, capped off with a 1-yard plunge from Collins.

However, the Bulldogs’ final two drives of the game ended in a punt and a turnover on downs.

Franklin County actually had more first downs than Louisville and outgained the Wildcats 207-168 but were left to rue the turnovers.

“We played right with them the whole game,” McCluskey said. “We just made too many mistakes and got behind. We had our chances, but they just beat us.”

Franklin County finished the season with a 12-3 record, which McCluskey said is something to be proud of.

“The kids played their hearts out tonight,” McCluskey said. “We just ran into a really good team. We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. Not many kids get here (to the state title game) and our kids have been here two years in a row. They worked hard all season and I’m proud of them.”