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Jones and Conner face off in a different rivalry game


Paul W. Bryant High School coach Errol Jones, in his first season, is seeking his first win with the injury-riddled Stampede. (Photo by Jason Harless)


TUSCALOOSA | Errol Jones and Dennis Conner plan to remain on speaking terms, but tonight they’ll be on opposite sides of the football field.

Jones’ Paul W. Bryant Stampede travels to face Conner’s Central Falcons in a Class 5A, Region 5 game.

Central, 3-3 overall, is still in the hunt for a playoff berth with a 2-2 record. Jones, a first-year coach, is seeking his first win with the Stampede, which has been riddled with injuries. Paul W. Bryant is 0-6 overall, 0-4 in the region.

Jones and Conner were part of an old-school rivalry when they were in high school. Jones played at Tuscaloosa County. Conner was a linebacker at Central. Conner plans to attend church Sunday at Bailey Tabernacle, where Jones’ father is the pastor.

"I’m excited about being back in a rivalry once again," Jones said. "The last time I faced Central as an opponent was in 1984."

Central plays TCHS this year in a non-region game, but Conner said his players have told him that Paul W. Bryant is the main rival.

"We’ve had a pretty good week of practice," Conner said. "It’s going to be a great atmosphere and a great game."

Jones said he’s tried an even-keel approach with his players this week.

"It has been routine for the most part, just trying to continue to grow, continue to learn what’s going on," Jones said. "As far as the rivalry, I would say 95 percent of kids’ parents graduated from Central. And the 5 percent that didn’t graduate from Central went to school with me at County High.

"The school has been here 10 years. It’s a natural rivalry because the schools are less than seven miles apart. I’m not trying to put any more emphasis on the game, other than the fact it’s a big game because it’s the next game. Unfortunately, we’re having to deal with a lot of injuries in trying to get ready for this game. There are a lot of things that you have to take into consideration. You don’t have certain players, therefore you can’t do certain things. What I want to do is come out and compete and just don’t give up."

Jones said he expects Joe Pradat to play at quarterback. Pradat suffered a leg injury in the Sept. 28 loss to Hillcrest. Running back Tyler Slayton was injured in the same game. Jones said Slayton is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery.

Tionne Wilder will be a target for Pradat’s passes, but Jones said the running backs will continue to play "by committee." He added that seven different players have been ball-carriers this season.

"It’s been disappointing, from the standpoint of every time you think someone is coming along and making steps, bam, the old injury bug pops up," Jones said. "But I’m not going to use injuries as an excuse. Every week someone has had to step up and play.

"All I can worry about is whether we’re executing offensively and defensively. I want to stay balanced, keep them off balance and guessing. I don’t want Central to dictate to me what I must run."

Jones said his leaders on defense include end JaDarius Ceasar, linebacker Carlton Robertson and defensive backs Cam Newton and Jakhourie Foster.

After losses to TCHS and Wenonah, Conner said his team "went back to basics" and dressed out in full pads three times this week.

Central’s Vincent Davis has thrown for 845 yards and six touchdowns and has gained 227 yards with three rushing touchdowns.

"Vincent definitely gives us a dual threat," Conner said. "He had a real good day of practice on Wednesday. We’ve got to try to keep his confidence at a high level. Once his confidence is at a high level he’ll continue to play at a high level.

Jemah Guyton leads the Falcons in rushing with 355 yards.

"He’s just coming back on an ankle injury," Conner said. "Then we’ve got Marshawn Leatherwood (at running back). All the receivers are healthy and ready to go."

Tyrell Hill and Robert Bates have 16 receptions each, and Kalias Robertson has 13.

"We’re pretty much healthy, but our center, Mike King, is out," said Conner, adding that King will not play because of a knee injury.

Linebacker Ron Rice is a leader for the Central defense. Rice has 41 solo tackles and eight assists.

"He’s the anchor of the defense," Conner said.

Other key players for the defense are Trey Sutton in the secondary and Fletcher Wilder at tackle.

 

Reach Andrew Carroll at andrew.carroll@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0223.