Oakland whips Riverdale 39-14 to reach state semifinals

Riverdale's Brandon Connard (4) runs for yardage against Oakland during the 2020 playoffs.

Brandon Connard has been itching to play.

“I’ve missed five games. I haven’t played this year,” he said. “But I’m ready to get back on the field and show I’m still that same guy and still that big-time playmaker everyone knows.”

Connard, an MTSU commitment who transferred from Riverdale to Pearl-Cohn earlier this season, will get that chance Friday when the No. 5 Firebirds (5-0, 3-0) face fellow unbeaten Tullahoma (5-0, 3-0) in a critical Region 5-4A road game.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound three-star running back began working out with his new team two weeks ago. Practices have gone well. He’s also been cheering from the sidelines at games each Friday.

That’s the chemistry Pearl-Cohn coach Tony Brunetti said he wanted to witness before allowing Connard to officially join the team.

“He had to do those things for me. As a person, as a growing young man, I needed him to do those things,” Brunetti said.

Connard likes that about his new coach.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Coach Brunetti told me when I came here that I’d have to earn my respect and earn my stripes. It motivated me to do the extra work and do what I needed to do. For me, that was big.

“(Brunetti’s) a real guy. He’s not gonna sugarcoat anything. He’s gonna keep it real with you and tell you what it is and what it isn’t. Pearl-Cohn has been successful for years, way before I got here. I already knew that it was a strong program. They’ve made it to the playoffs, the state championship prior to me.”

Connard previously knew Pearl-Cohn star Barion Brown from their work together with Nashville Playmakers Academy. But getting to know a cast of new teammates has been an experience.

“It’s different for me moving from Murfreesboro to Nashville, being in a new environment around new people,” he said. “I’m getting used to it. Me and the guys are just working and trying to get better.

“Everything is fresh. It’s just a fresh start, a clean slate. I’m kind of getting my feet wet again. I’m just fitting in and doing what I can to help the team out.”

The only speed bump Connard has experienced at Pearl-Cohn is a slight ankle tweak that he has recovered from.

He should provide an immediate boost as the second half of the season begins.

He rushed for 981 yards and 14 touchdowns for Riverdale last year. Before committing to MTSU, his scholarship offers included Arkansas, Ole Miss, Missouri and Tennessee.

Connard will do more than run the ball, he’ll also play cornerback.

“I haven’t played defense since I was a freshman, but you know in my mind I’ve always been able to play defense,” Connard said. “I like being on defense.”

Said Brunetti: “You are going to see him all around the game, not just in offense. We’re gonna let him be an athlete. He’s not gonna be one-dimensional.”

Tyler Palmateer covers high school sports for Main Street Nashville. A graduate of Oklahoma State University, Palmateer has covered high school and college sports for nearly a decade. Find him on Twitter @tpalmateer83.

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