While Hannibal put up big offensive numbers, it was the defense that let the Pirates take control of the game for a 34-7 victory over Kirksville.
Hannibal has traditionally been a run-heavy football team, but this year personnel has dictated the Pirates air the ball out more often.
The change in offensive style worked fine on Friday night, as Hannibal struck for three passing touchdowns and cruised to a 34-7 victory at Kirksville.
While Hannibal (3-2) put up big offensive numbers, it was the defense that let the Pirates take control of the game in the second quarter.
Leading 14-7, Hannibal junior Gabe Worthington was picked off for the second time in the game, this time courtesy of Blake Lewis near midfield. Kirksville’s (1-4) offense couldn’t do anything with the turnover, as the Hannibal defense forced a Lewis fumble that was recovered by the Pirates under a pile of bodies as the first half drew close to ending.
With about 80 seconds left in the half, Worthington found Wyatt Waelder for a 46-yard touchdown pass to put Hannibal up 20-7, and the Pirates assumed control of the contest.
Hannibal's stingy defense allowed just 71 total yards the whole game.
“Our defense finally stepped up,” Hannibal coach Mark St. Clair said. “It was our best outing on both sides of the ball and special teams, too. We finally put together four quarters of football. We hadn’t been playing with too much fire in our belly. I’ve told them that. They finally played with a little bit of attitude. This is a good Kirksville team that we beat.”
Hannibal jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. After stopping the Tigers on the first drive of the game, the Pirates scored on a 33-yard pass to wide receiver Will Whitaker and then added another score coming off a 5-yard run by Billy Smashey.
During the first quarter, Kirksville was held without a first down.
“Point blank we just didn’t make the big plays they did,” Kirksville coach Conrad Schottel said. “When it came down to our one-on-one matchups, or to those tense situations where it’s go-time, we just didn’t make the plays.”
Kirksville’s offense finally got started in the second quarter, courtesy of its defense. Braden Smith picked off Worthington’s pass, giving the Tigers a short field to work with. John Bohon would put the Tigers on the board with a 1-yard quarterback keeper to cut the lead in half, 14-7, with 7:27 left in the second quarter. It was the only score for the Tigers.
For the night, Worthington went 6-for-10 for 145 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Dante Reading contributed 100 yards rushing on 13 carries, including a 23-yard fourth-quarter touchdown. The Pirates finished with 380 yards of offense on 61 offensive snaps.
“We’re an option football team but we can throw the ball,” St. Clair said. “We’ve got a couple of wideouts that can go up and get it. That’s what we like about this team. We can still run the option and run a little power, but we can also throw it. We just didn’t put all the pieces together until tonight.”
Before the game, Schottel mentioned that he still was waiting to see his team play hard for all four quarters in a single game. Even with the score, he said the team did just that.
“I was more proud of them tonight than during our Marshall game,” Schottel said. “I really saw this team give four quarters of heart, enthusiasm and energy. We can coach that. We can help these guys get better if they continue to show up. We had some self-inflicted errors that really hurt us, but Hannibal is also a heck of a team.”
Kirksville travels to Boonville next week, while Hannibal hosts Fulton next Friday.