Jonathon Grubb wasted no time Friday night making the most of a golden opportunity for Mexico during a 28-14 win over the Hannibal football team at Porter Stadium.
The senior quarterback bolted 20 yards on the first play of the Bulldogs’ final scoring drive give the visitors a 3-touchdown advantage with 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The score capitalized on a Hannibal fumble the Pirates coughed up while nearing the red zone. Dillon Nichols recovered the ball and ran 60 yards to set up Grubb’s barreling run that helped position the Bulldogs in the driver’s seat for the North Central Missouri Conference title.
“I just saw the hole open up, so I took off,” said an elated Grubb of the score. “That’s what they tell me to do.
“None of us on the team have ever beaten Hannibal in the regular season. We’ve always been trying to win the conference and we’ve always been runner-up to them. This is a huge deal for us.”
Hannibal and Mexico were knotted 7-all at halftime before the tide started to turn. Grubb capped off a five-play, 57-yard drive with a 28-yard rushing touchdown to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the night.
Hannibal quarterback Gabe Worthington was then picked off by Matthew Huffman at the Mexico 5-yard line to thwart a Pirates drive fueled by a 21-yard reception by junior Diamond Fernando.
Mexico marched 95 yards on 13 plays to go up 21-7. Cameron Holman, who led with 118 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, punched it in from three yards out with two minutes remaining in the third.
“We had some mistakes that hurt us bad,” Hannibal coach Mark St. Clair said. “There were a lot things that didn’t go our way, but you’ve got to give credit to Mexico. They controlled the line of scrimmage and the tempo of the game because they put together first downs. They did to us what we’ve done to teams for over 20 years.”
All started well for Hannibal in the first half as Fernando raced 56 yards on the first play of scrimmage to give the home team a 7-0 lead. He finished the night with 90 yards on seven carries and Hannibal’s lone pair of touchdowns.
The Pirates threatened to add to their lead in the first half but couldn’t find the end zone again before the break.
The Pirates drove 60 yards on nine plays during its next possession, but the Bulldogs snuffed out Billy Smashey’s fourth-down run to take over on downs at their own 18.
The contest took a pair of wild turns on Mexico’s next drive.
Nichols dashed 71 yards for what he thought was a touchdown for the Bulldogs only to have it negated due to a block in the back.
Hannibal senior Wyatt Waelder then met Mexico running back Jesean White in the backfield for a key tackle for loss to force third-and-7. On the next play, Grubb scrambled right to avoid a sack before throwing the ball right into the hands of Pirates defensive back Will Whitaker, who came down with what appeared to be an interception.
No so fast.
The play was called back due to roughing the passer.
The penalty hurt the Pirates as the Bulldogs capped a 16-play, 82-yard scoring drive with a rushing touchdown by Holman to convert a third-and-goal play.
“It’s probably 14-0 at half if we don’t have that happen,” said St. Clair of roughing the passer. “Penalties killed us. That’s been our achilles heel all season, and at inopportune times. Until we decide to take care of that, that’s going to be a problem.”
Jaden Pottebaum made his presence felt on Hannibal’s first drive of the second quarter. The senior came out of nowhere to sack Worthington for a loss of 10 yards. Two plays later, Hannibal was forced to punt.
Led by a steady dose of Grubb and Holman, Mexico was headed for the end zone in the final moments of the first half before Whitaker got his hands another Bulldogs pass. This time, the interception counted. And this time, the defensive play came on the goal line to keep the Bulldogs from taking the lead.
While Hannibal held Mexico from taking the lead into halftime, the Pirates didn’t have an answer for the Bulldogs’ option attack in the second half. As a result, Hannibal fell to 2-2 on the season, including 1-1 in NCMC.
On the night, Grubb added 113 yards on 14 carries, while Avion Williams and Nichols each recorded 38 yards rushing a piece for a Mexico squad that compiled 339 yards on the ground to break a three-game losing streak to its NCMC rivals.
“This is probably one of the best offensive performances we’ve put out,” Mexico coach Steve Haag said. “We’ve had more yards and completed passes, but Jonathon has come alive reading the option and now he’s getting a little bit of confidence. We’ve got Cameron who gives us speed on the outside, and our offensive line just did a heck of a job tonight.”
Hannibal totaled just 235 yards of total offense, 97 of which came through the air via Worthington. The junior signal caller completed 7-of-19 passes on the night.
Fernando scored from one yard out with 2:28 remaining in the contest to make it 28-14, but the Pirates never got any closer.
St. Clair mentioned his squad must regroup ahead of next Friday’s matchup at Kirksville.
“We can’t even think about the conference title or any of that stuff,” the veteran coach said. “Obviously we want to win a conference title, but we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to talk about getting better as a football team. It doesn’t matter who we play right now. We’re not getting beat by people. We’re beating ourselves right now at times.”
The victory was almost too good to be true for Haag’s Bulldogs, who improved to 3-1 and 2-0 in NCMC.
“Hannibal is always good, always big, and it’s hard to sometimes overcome that mystique,” the Mexico coach said. “We’ve had some tough-fought games here, and I’m never comfortable. But now the pressure’s on. Everybody is going to be gunning for us in the conference.”