The Hannibal football team might be out of the running for the North Central Missouri Conference title, but the Pirates’ season is far from over.
“We can’t worry about last week,” Hannibal coach Mark St Clair said. “Last week is last week and we have to worry about this week. We have to get ready to play and we have had a good week of practice. Our attitude seems to be great, we just have to get after it.”
According to St Clair, the Pirates’ defense was not up to par in the loss to Moberly.
“We didn’t get after it on defense last week,” St Clair said. “It is that simple. We weren’t physical enough and we weren’t intense enough on the defensive side so we got beat. ... We have to get more intensity on the defensive side of the football and we have to improve, and we are going to.”
The Pirates final two games of the regular season will be at home. This week Hannibal hosts Marshall. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at Porter Stadium.
“The conference has got a lot of parity this year,” St Clair said. “We have been so dominant in the conference in the past, it has been four or five years since we lost a game. Moberly  is very good this year and Fulton has improved this year. Mexico and Kirksville are much improved this year. There is a lot of parity in our conference and it’s good for football. We want good competition and we have got good competition. ... By this time of year we ought to be playing our best football. We didn’t do it last week, but we plan on doing that Friday.”
Marshall comes into the game sporting a 2-5 record for the season while the Owls are just 1-3 in NCMC play.
The key to stopping Marshall will be the Pirates’ front line. The Owls have four running backs with over 125 yards this season, including two with over 325. Junior Devin Cott leads the Owls with 485 yards on the ground while senior Tyler Cott has 326 yards. In addition, Chris Stephenson has 127 yards and Zach Glassmaker has 158. As a team, the Owls are averaging 4.06 yards a carry and have rushed for 1,223 yards on 301 carries this year.
“We want to stop the run,” St Clair said. “There isn’t a football coach in the country that doesn’t want to stop the run. We didn’t do that last week. We have had two weeks in a row of not being very good on defense and we have got to improve and the kids know that. It’s pretty simple, we need to play better.”
As for Hannibal, the Pirates success depends on the running game. Where Mitch Nichols goes, the Pirates go. The senior has carried the load this year for a team that has lost numerous players to injuries yet somehow managed to remain competitive.
“Everybody knows that we have had some injuries,” St Clair said. “Most teams in the state would be excited to be 5-2 at this time. We are proud of our kids and our kids have stepped up. I think there are a lot of programs that would have had a lot more problems with the amount of issues we have dealt with. Our kids have stepped up and played at a high level. Our consistency hasn’t been what we expect here, but you have to give credit to our kids. They have stepped up and played tough and kept us in ball games while giving us a chance to have a real good season.”
Last week Nichols had his sixth straight game with over 100 yards rushing, but the Pirates lost for the first time during that stretch. Nichols needs just 56 yards in the week’s game to total 1,000 yards for the second straight season. In addition, the senior has found the end zones 12 times on the ground and once more through the air.
“Nichols is a good football player,” St Clair said. “We are going to start using him a little bit more on the defensive side while still being able to get him the ball on the offensive side. He is the leader. Mitch is the leader of the team and he is the type of kid you can ask to do anything. He is first in line and last one to leave and he is very positive with his teammates. His ability to raise other kids’ level of play is as important as anything else.”
Speaking of going through the air, the Pirates’ passing game has been a big part of the team’s success this year. Junior quarterback Austin Kirby has thrown for 586 yards and seven touchdowns. Three times this year he has thrown two TD passes in a game.
“We have had teams stacking the box on us and (Kirby) has been able to throw with some success,” St Clair said. “Part of that is the protection he is getting, part is our ability to run the ball, and part of it is we have got some weapons on the outside. Anytime you run the ball, it is going to open up more for the pass. ... Kirby has done a nice job under center and he gets better every week.”
Last year Hannibal beat Marshall twice. The first win was a 28-8 win in the regular season while the second was a 34-13 win to knock the Owls out of the playoffs. Overall, Hannibal holds a 28-9-1 advantage over the Owls and have not lost to Marshall since 2007.
“We talk about having a sense of urgency,” St Clair said. “A want it now type of thing that you have to treat it with on every play. We can’t talk about districts, we can’t even talk about a week from now. We have to take the moment we are in and the play that we are on and treat it like it means everything. If we do that, we are going to be successful.”