Facing a fourth and one with 1:06 left on the clock, the Hannibal Pirates trailed Mexico 20-14. Their fate rested on the next play. Convert and the Pirates got a new set of downs, fail and the game was over.
So what did the Pirates do? They handed the ball to senior Mitch Nichols and the running back blasted his way into the end zone.
“When you got a cannon you fire it,” Hannibal coach Mark St Clair said, “It is that simple. You get the ball into the hands of your best back and run behind your best lineman. That was what that was all about.”
Nichols was grateful to be given the opportunity on the fourth and one play.
“It was very emotional for me to win the game for us,” Nichols said. “I almost teared up in the end zone right there.”
Nichols’ touchdown allowed the Pirates to celebrate homecoming at Porter Stadium with a win as Hannibal came from behind and beat Mexcio 21-20.
The win was the ninth straight for Hannibal over Mexico.
“We were pumped for that final drive,” Nichols said. “We did our assignments finally.”
Following Mexico’s go ahead touchdown, Hannibal took possession of the ball at its own 47 yard line with 2:34 left in the game.
The Pirates proceeded to use nine plays to find the end zone, something Hannibal had not done since the 0:40 mark of the second half. Nichols’ tied the game when he found paydirt.
“I thought our kids did a good job of managing the clock and getting to the line,” St Clair said. “We did a good job there at the end. That is about all you can say. We executed. We kept our composure and we put the ball in the end zone. Even bigger than that, we made the extra point for the win!”
The winning point was credited to sophomore kicker Marcus Allen.
“I am glad I can represent all my team and get us a victory,” Allen said. “It was just real - I just had to stay calm.”
Allen, who took over as the Pirates’ kicker in week three’s win over Boonville, was not nervous at all.
“The main thing I do when I line up to kick,” Allen said, “I just take a deep breath and tell myself to remain calm because it will be all right. So, I just stayed calm.”
Before its game winning scoring drive, the Pirates were forced to punt after going three-and-out twice and two other times turned the ball over on downs.
“We couldn’t catch a break in the fourth quarter,” St Clair said. “But, the kids responded and that is why I am so proud of them. They could have put their heads down several times, but they didn’t.”
Between its final score and its previous score, Mexico had scored twice to take a 20-14 lead.
Earlier in the week St Clair said he expected a tough game from Mexico and that the Bulldogs were an improved team. After coming from behind to beat the Bulldogs, St Clair complimented Mexico again.
“They are a greatly improved team,” St Clair said. “I told their coaches afterwards that. What an outing for them. They have improved so much from last year. They have an upperclassmen team that plays hard and they are physical. Hats off to them.”
Hannibal could do little to stop Mexico’s bruising rushing attack. The Bulldogs lit up the Pirates for 269 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
“They ran it down our throat,” St Clair said. “That is the only way to describe it. ... Defensively it was tough.”
But the game didn’t start out that way.
On the opening offensive play, Hannibal’s defense forced Mexico to fumble the ball away and Andy Colborn recovered it for the Pirates.
Six plays later, the Pirates were in the end zone.
On their first several rushing attempts, the Pirates failed to move the ball much and were facing a fourth and eight when Wyatt King broke free for an 11-yard gain. Two plays later, quarterback Austin Kirby completed his first pass of the game to Tanner Sanborn for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
“It was a huge play,” St Clair said. “Anytime you can get a turnover and get the ball in your hands, particularly deep in their territory - it was obviously a huge play. We executed a play action pass and put it in the end zone.”
On Mexico’s ensuing drive, the Bulldogs used eight plays to cover 56 yards, getting all the way to Hannibal’s 5-yard line before the Pirate defense held pat, forcing a turnover on downs.
Starting on its own five, the Pirates responded with a 10-play drive, getting to the Mexico 39 before an interception gave Mexico the ball back.
The Bulldogs responded with a 14-play scoring drive to tie the game.
Each team followed with a three and out before the Pirates retook the lead.
Using a 16 play drive, Hannibal rushed the ball the first 15 plays before Kirby connected with Dalton Overstreet on a 13-yard strike with 0:40 left in the half.
“Who would have thought,” St Clair said. “Hannibal’s first two scores came through the air. But we have got to do what we have got to do and the kids responded.”
The pass was Kirby’s third completion in five tries of the evening and his second TD pass. Kirby finished the night 4-of-9 for 57 yards and two scores.
“They were nice to celebrate,” Kirby said of his two TD passes. “I just wanted to keep going and get the offense going to get more of a cushion in the second half.”
As a team, Hannibal rushed for 176 yards. Nichols accounted for 125 of those yards on 24 carries. Wyatt King had 24 yards and Kirby finished with 18 yards. The remaining nine yards went to freshman Shamar Griffith.
With the win, Hannibal improves to 3-1 on the season ans 2-0 in North Central Missouri Conference play. The Pirates will be on the road next week when they travel to Kirksville to play the Tigers.