Hannibal Courier-Post

Run game big factor for Pirates' success

Hannibal running back Damien French runs downfield during last week's game against Moberly in Moberly, Mo.
Mathew Kirby/Courier-Post
By Hannibal Courier-Post
Posted: Oct. 16, 2019 2:19 pm Updated: Oct. 16, 2019 2:22 pm

HANNIBAL – Damien French gave a slight smirk when asked about his rushing performances over the last three games.

“I mean, I’m not really focused on that,” French said.

The junior running back for the Hannibal football team has become the focus for opponents. French has rushed for more than 200 yards in the last three games to help the Pirates build a four-game winning streak heading into Friday’s game against Marshall.

A victory gives Hannibal the North Central Missouri Conference title outright.

The run game has helped the Pirates reach this point.

In his last three games, French has totaled 666 rushing yards with 11 rushing touchdowns on 74 carries. That’s raised his season totals to 1,005 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

“We’re just getting a lot better upfront and we’re a lot more physical,” Hannibal coach Quentin Hamner said. “It’s putting Damien in position to be a really good player. Plus, it just takes more than one player to take him down.”

When French gets the attention, it means opposing defenses are stacking as many as nine players in the box to stop him. That opens up the passing game for sophomore quarterback Courtland Watson. He’s thrived, too, with 290 passing yards in his last three games.

“Our receivers just have more space now,” Watson said. “We can really get our passing game going.”

Hannibal saw similar types of defenses in the first weeks of the season, but it was to force Watson to throw the ball to win games. Watson has the trust in himself to make those throws, now.

“Since Week 1 I’ve gotten a lot more confidence growing the ball,” Watson said. “I just try to throw the easy passes and let the guys go to work.”

That turnaround has the Pirates aiming for a fifth straight victory and another conference title.

That’s the goal over everything.

“The focus is just getting the victories,” French said. “I’m not really worried about my yards. Anyone can go out there and do it and I’d be just as happy. Things are just starting to click better. I think we’d be able to keep up with the teams now we played earlier in the year now.”