For the second straight week, Jahwaun Cassidy returned the second half kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown as the Hannibal football team beat Marshall 34-13 Wednesday night.
“It felt good,” Cassidy said. “We have been practicing all week and we knew it was coming. It just came down to practicing and executing.”
Hannibal coach Mark St Clair was especially happy for his senior as the kickoff return tied the school record for kickoff returns (2) in a season.
“Jahwaun (Cassidy) is one of those kids who makes big plays,” St Clair said. “He just has a knack for it and his kickoff return tied the school record for kickoff returns in a season. So hats off to him for that.”
Cassidy’s kickoff return gave Hannibal (10-1) a 27-13 lead to start the second half.
“It feels good to be able to get that momentum spark,” Cassidy said. “To get the break through, some people just have the speed and it just feels good.”
On Marshall’s ensuing drive, the Owls had an opportunity to take the momentum back following a 47 yard run by Marshall quarterback Alex Maupin. Maupin’s run gave the Owls a first and goal at the Hannibal three-yard line. But Marshall never scored.
On the first play, Owls running back Tyler Cott managed just a one yard gain. On Cott’s next carry, he lost two yards. Facing a third and goal from the four, the Owls rushed again and got back to the original line of scrimmage, the three yard line.
Trailing by a pair of touchdowns, the Owls went for it on fourth and goal from the three, and came up one yard short. Marshall turned the ball over on downs at the one yard line.
“That was a big momentum shift,” Cassidy said. “That was what we have been looking for all season, is that goal line stand and that really sparked our defense.”
St Clair said the defense’s stop was huge.
“They were inside our two or three yard line and we stopped them in four downs,” St Clair said. “That is huge. That is an amazing stop.”
That defense stop wasn’t the only big play by the Pirate defense though. In the second quarter, Cassidy picked off a pass. Three plays later, the Pirates scored. Cassidy picked off another pass late in the fourth quarter that essentially sealed the Pirates win.
“I have been struggling this season bringing them down,” Cassidy said. “It is just hard to bring them down sometimes and it just felt good to finally hold on to them.”
After managing just 52 rushing yards in the first half, Hannibal suddenly started moving the ball on the ground in the second half.
On the Pirates first offensive play of the second half, Dalton Powell rushed the ball for a 30 yard gain. He followed that up with a 24 yard gain on the next play. Two offensive plays into the second half and Powell had more rushing yards on one drive than Hannibal had in the entire first half.
“In the first half I didn’t pull the ball much,” Powell said. “Those two plays I pulled the ball and they weren’t expecting it. I was able to just run and the line did a very good job of blocking on those plays.”
Powell finished the night with 80 yards on the ground, but it was his passing game that put the Pirates over the top. Powell completed 6 of his first 8 passes, including five in a row, for 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns. For the night Powell was 6-of-12 for 147 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception.
“In the first half, (Marshall) was able to confuse us and beat us up front,” Powell said. “They stuffed the run so we knew we had to go to the air. Eventually us going to the air loosened them up on the ground in the second half.”
Powell’s first touchdown pass went to Justin Price in the first quarter for 30 yards on the Pirates second drive of the game. His second TD went to Lijah Harrison in the second quarter for 44 yards.
“It just shows how hard we worked in practice,” Powell said of his two TD passes. “Coming off the two interceptions from last week, I was really disappointed in my performance. But we really focused and I got all my reads and I think that really showed tonight.”
Harrison caught 3 passes for 66 yards while Caleb Bieniek brought down two passes for 51 yards.
Hannibal took a 6-0 lead on its opening drive when Mitch Nichols scored on a one yard run for the Pirates. The Pirates final touchdown came on another one yard run, this time from Caleb Bieniek late in the fourth quarter.
Nichols finished the night with 57 yards on the ground while Bieniek rushed for 33 yards.
Austin Davis led the Pirates with a team-high 11 tackles and one sack while Jake Borgmeyer was right behind with 10 tackles for Hannibal.
With the win, Hannibal secured a date in the Class 4, District 6 championship game on Monday, Nov. 5.
“We are going to celebrate this win tonight,” Powell said. “We realize that the next game we have Helias and that is going to be a very important game.”
 Hannibal will host Helias at Porter Stadium at 7 p.m. The district championship game will mark the third straight opponent the Pirates have played in the postseason that they also played in the regular season. Helias beat Hannibal in week nine to end the Pirates shot at a perfect season.
 “I think it is what we have been looking forward to,” St Clair said. “We knew coming down to it that that game in week 9 was a prelim if we took care of business. We did and it is here. We get a few days to prepare and we are going to have a hard hitting game like tonight.”