Jarod Conner was far from satisfied with his final performance in a Hattiesburg uniform back in November. That and his Tigers’ early exit of the Class 5A playoffs only fueled his determination to represent his state and go out a winner in Monday night’s Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game.
When the clock struck zero at Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl, Conner had amassed 116 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Ole Miss running back commit earned MVP honors, as he led Team Mississippi to a 24-20 victory and a second straight win in the rivalry.
“I knew I had to rep Mississippi across my chest and had to come out and play hard for my team,” said Conner. “For Mississippi and Hattiesburg, too. I knew the coaches wanted to win bad, so I had to come out and play and have my mind focused on the game to run hard.”
After Alabama struck first in the first quarter off a Bo Nix-to-George Pickens touchdown connection, Conner found the end zone late in second on a two-yard run to tie the game, 7-7. On the scoring play, he took the handoff from Oak Grove quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, who played alongside Conner most of the night and finished with 116 yards (77 passing, 39 rushing).
“That was a lot of fun,” said Plumlee of teaming up with Conner. “We got to know each other over the week pretty well. We hadn’t really talked a whole lot before the week started, but I’d call us pretty close now. He’s a really cool guy for sure.”
With 9:44 left in the third quarter, Team Mississippi took a 14-7 lead off Conner’s second touchdown run of the day—a six-yard scamper. Conner and Tupelo standout Jacquerrious Williams ran wild much of the second half.
“We saw they were getting tired,” said Laurel offensive lineman Charles Cross, who started at left tackle for Team Mississippi. “We were hitting them every time and hitting them in the mouth with it.”
Mississippi often brought defensive lineman Nathan Pickering (Seminary) and Byron Young (West Jones) in as extra blockers, too.
“For me to get back there, I’m ready….let’s go. It was fun,” said Pickering. “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting them to do it because I’m pretty sure they picked someone who actually does that for a living at high school. But it was amazing for me to get back there, it was fun.”
Defensively, Pickering and company locked down after surrendering that early score in the first quarter.
“We did some adjustments at halftime,” said Pickering. “We just told them, ‘Hey, you can’t let them beat you deep and you gotta play aggressive’. That’s what they did. The d-line, we kept doing what we were doing in chasing him [the quarterback] and basically agitating the offensive line.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Team Mississippi extended their lead to 21-7 off a 13-yard touchdown run from Williams, who finished with 97 yards. Shortly after Alabama cut the lead to seven points, Mississippi put the game away with 35 seconds left, as Clinton’s Tucker Barefoot connected on a 43-yard field goal, making it 24-14 Mississippi.
“It was a really neat experience to be able to put the pads on one more time as a high school guy and win it,” said Plumlee. “It really meant a lot, especially with all these guys. These are some extremely talented guys, and they’re really good guys off the field as well.”
As time expired, Alabama scored on another Nix-to-Pickens touchdown connection, but it was too little too late.
“It’s very emotional, but for me to end it like this is very honoring,” added Pickering, who finished with five tackles. “To come out and compete with the best teams in Mississippi, it’s just an honor for me to be here and showcase my talent.”
As previously mentioned, it’s Mississippi’s second straight win in the rivalry.
“When we came, the first thing they told us was that this was a business trip,” said Byron Young. “We knew we were gonna come over here, and that there would be a lot of hard work. We had to have our heads on right and be prepared to win this football game.”
Other local standouts who participated in the game were Sumrall wide receiver Dannis Jackson, who finished with one catch for nine yards, and Hattiesburg defensive lineman Jaren Handy and defensive back Hakeem Vance. Local coaches Tony Vance (Hattiesburg), Kenny Robinson (Mize) and Todd Mangum (Wayne County) participated as well.