Playing its first game since losing to Helias one week ago, the Hannibal football team blanked Mexico 42-0 in the opening round of the Class 4, District 6 playoffs.
“Sometimes you can learn more from a loss than you can from a win,” Hannibal coach Mark St Clair said. “I think the kids figured out that the little things make a big difference.”
Senior running back Caleb Bieniek said the Pirates needed to show that despite last week’s loss, the Pirates were still a force to be reckoned with.
“We knew the state was watching us to see how we would come back,” Bieniek said. “I think we did pretty good tonight. We showed them that it is not a fluke that we went 8-1. We showed them that we are a good team and we are here to play.”
On the opening drive, Hannibal’s defense forced Mexico to punt the ball four plays into the game. However, Lijah Harrison blocked the punt and Austin Davis recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown just 51 seconds into the game.
“The way we jumped out to the early lead,” St Clair said, “every team will tell you they want to do that. But when you score on defense to start the game and your offense hasn’t even been on the field and you are up 7-0, that is huge.”
On Mexico’s next drive, Hannibal (9-1) again forced the Bulldogs to punt following another three and out. It took Hannibal seven plays, but the Pirates scored again. This time it was Mitch Nichols finding the end zone on a 32 yard run. It was Nichols’ second carry of the game.
On Nichols first carry of the game, the junior running back crossed the 1,000 yard mark for the season. After finishing the night with nine carries for 74 yards, Nichols now has 1,071 yards through 10 games this year.
After the Pirates forced Mexico into its third straight three and out of the first quarter, Hannibal needed just four plays to score again. Senior Jahwaun Cassidy broke free for a 20 yard touchdown run on his first carry of the game.
“Cassidy is a special football player,” St Clair said. “When you look at kids on our team, he does a lot of stuff. He played two different positions back there on defense because we had somebody out today.”
Mexico finally picked up a first down on its next drive, but it didn’t help as the Bulldogs were once again forced to punt. In all, Mexico punted the ball eight times while turning the ball over on downs four times.
Mexico’s rushing game was working in the first half as the Bulldogs managed just 8 rushing yards in the first half on 17 carries. Because of that, Mexico was forced to pass. The Bulldogs gained 69 yards through the air, but were 5-of-24 on passing attempts.
“Our defense was solid,” St Clair said. “When you stop the run like that, you really put offenses in a bad situation. They weren’t able to run the ball and that put pressure on them. Obviously they are going to complete some passes, but we want to stop the run and we want to make people throw.”
Cassidy especially wrecked havoc among the Mexico receivers as he batted down five first half passes, two of which he just missed turning into pick-sixes.
“It felt good defending the pass,” Cassidy said. “But it would have felt nicer returning it all the way for a pick-six.”
St Clair had nothing but praise for his senior.
“He returned a kick, knocked down a bunch of passes, and had a touchdown run,” St Clair said. “I would say that all adds up to a pretty good night.”
Hannibal built up a 28-0 first half lead behind a rushing game that piled up 238 yards on the ground in the first 24 minutes of the game.
Bieniek rushed for 107 yards on seven carries in the first half and scored a touchdown midway through the second quarter. In the second half, Bieniek had one carry for the Pirates, a 43 yard touchdown run. Six of Bieniek’s eight carries went for 10 yards or more.
“Our line had some good blocks,” Bieniek said. “I bounced it outside and outran a couple of people. I think it was just effort really.”
At the beginning of the second half. Cassidy took the kickoff and returned the ball 80 yards for a touchdown.
“That was great,” Cassidy said. “Week after week I have been close to busting one and it was finally good to get one and take one home.”
Cassidy’s score gave Hannibal a 35-0 lead and put a running clock into play for the rest of the game. Bieniek’s second half TD run came on the Pirates’ first offensive play from scrimmage.
“We talked all week about increasing our level of intensity,” St Clair said. “Credit our special teams. We scored on a blocked punt and we scored on a kickoff return. But the rest of our special teams were pretty solid also.”
Next up for Hannibal will be Marshall. The Marshall Owls upset Moberly 20-17 in overtime Friday. The two teams will celebrate Halloween with a Wednesday night meeting on Oct. 31. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m.
“It really helps us out that we didn’t have to play 48 minutes tonight,” St Clair said. “The kids could rest a little bit because we have to turn around and play on Wednesday.”