The Hannibal football team struggled to convert red zone chances and came just short of a comeback in an 18-13 loss at Moberly.

The Hannibal football team plotted an escape against North Central Missouri Conference rival Moberly on Friday night when Will Whitaker corralled a 76-yard reception on fourth down to enter the red zone with 1:22 remaining.

Trailing by five points, Hannibal soon moved the ball to the Moberly 4-yard line for a fourth-and-1 play with 32 seconds left.

A pair of false starts led to the Pirates’ demise.

Following the untimely penalties, quarterback Gabe Worthington fired incomplete to the end zone.

Moberly 18, Hannibal 13.

Ballgame over.

“We definitely had our chance to win,” Hannibal coach Mark St. Clair said. “We just made too many mistakes. It’s not our effort because our effort was great. We just shot ourselves in foot not just that last drive but several times.”

Moberly (5-2, 4-0 NCMC) maintained control of first place in the conference and dashed hopes Hannibal (4-3, 3-2) had of defending its championship reign.

Hannibal’s final drive of the night was its third that stalled after getting inside the Moberly 20.

Late in the first half, sophomore Owen Johnson came down with an interception to give the visitors the ball 11 yards from the goal line before Hannibal turned it over on downs.

Dante Reading, who led Hannibal with 69 yards rushing on 14 carries, rattled off a 32-yard run to move the Pirates as far as the Moberly 15 on their first drive of the third quarter. Yet again, Moberly tightened to force incomplete passes on third and fourth downs.

“You’ve got to give some credit to Moberly, but we’ve got to do a better job disciplining ourselves and picking up blocks and not having penalties and making sure we’re getting positive yards,” St. Clair said.

The Spartans drove 49 yards on seven plays to take a 6-0 lead with 3:26 remaining in the first quarter, while the Pirates couldn’t gain traction offensively in the opening stanza.

Moberly quarterback Nick Gelina found Toshaun Davis for a 42-yard completion on the hosts’ next drive to set up a 4-yard touchdown scamper by Chance Richards that made it 12-0.

Hannibal showed signs of life to get on the board with 3:37 remaining in the first half. The Pirates did so with success on a pair of fourth-down plays.

JaQuez McGruder converted a fourth-and-2 run to extend the possession before Billy Smashey punched the ball for a 1-yard score on fourth-and-goal to cut the visitors’ deficit to 12-7.

Following Richard’s second touchdown run of the night, which came on a delayed handoff with 3:01 left in the third quarter, Hannibal wasted no time responding.

Worthington, who completed 9-of-22 passes for 196 yards, swung a pass to senior receiver Wyatt Waelder who maneuvered his way 66-yards to the house to make it 18-13.

The score never changed again.

Moberly ate up over nine minutes of clock with a strong fourth-quarter drive before punting with two minutes left.

Hannibal faced a fourth-and-7 from its own 10-yard line before Worthington connected with Whitaker for the Pirates’ biggest gain of the night. The ball remained in the air just long enough for the junior to come down with it to keep hopes of a comeback alive.

“It was a long pass play, an out and up, and we hit him in stride,” St. Clair said. “But we just didn’t punch it in from there. We didn’t get it done.”

Whitaker nearly scored what would have been a winning touchdown for Hannibal, but the speed of Davis caught up with the receiver in time to bring him down to set up another dramatic defensive stand for the Spartans.

“I saw that big play happening for them. It’s the end of the game, and I had to give my 100 percent and not let him score,” Davis said. “I had to come up with a big moment and make a big tackle. This was a big game for all of us and he had to be brought down or we lose.”

Whitaker led the visitors with 113 yards receiving on six catches, while Waelder made his two receptions count for 74 yards.

Jordan Schafer led the Pirates with nine tackles, while Evan Allen came up with six stops, including two for loss.

Moberly coach Cody McDowell had nothing but praise for his squad after beating the perennial NCMC power.

“This was a very good football team we just beat tonight,” he said. “This is a tribute to our guys and their resiliency and character that they have shown all season. Our guys responded well, especially up front and our defense, to adversity when it presented itself when Hannibal fought back and threatened to score on us several times. I’m so very happy for our kids.”

St. Clair was unwavering in his confidence that his team has what it would have taken to win.

It came down to execution.

“It’s one of those games that eats at you because you know you had your opportunities,” he said. “We can feel bad about it for a little bit, but we’ve got to get ready to play again.”

Hannibal hosts winless Marshall next Friday night.

Moberly Monitor-Index sports editor Chuck Embree contributed to this story.