The Hannibal football team heads to Columbia on Friday night to face Class 5 powerhouse Battle.
Jordan Schafer gets straight to the point when looking forward to the Hannibal football team's trip to Columbia to face Class 5 eighth-ranked Battle on Friday night.
The matchup presents the Pirates with an opportunity.
“We want to make a statement when we go down to Battle and show them that we're ready and we're coming for the playoffs,” said Schafer, a linebacker who led the Pirates in tackles the past two weeks. “We know that they're a big team, but we're ready to be aggressive. There are a lot of people doubting us, and I'm ready to show them that we can take this team.”
Hannibal and Battle enter the showdown with identical records of 5-3 and the common goal of finishing strong before district playoffs begin next week. This will be the fifth meeting between the two schools. The visitors have won every matchup thus far, including the Spartans' 50-27 win over the Pirates last Oct. 14 in Hannibal.
“We're 2-2 against them,” Hannibal coach Mark St. Clair noted. “We've won both times going down there and they've won both times coming here to Hannibal. It literally has been a back and forth battle every other year.”
If that's the case, this year should swing in the favor of St. Clair's squad.
But it won't be easy.
Battle has been close to untouchable at home this season with a 4-0 record on its own turf. The Spartans have beaten teams by a combined score of 204-47 at home.
“They're big, they're physical, they're fast,” Hannibal senior Wyatt Waelder said of Battle. “They have a lot of athletes. Don't get me wrong, teams we play are good, but this team has a lot more. We're going to have to beat them with stuff like technique. If we do that, we can play with them just like we can play with anybody.”
Coming off a 31-14 loss to Jefferson City last Friday, the Spartans won't lack motivation in their final tilt of the regular season. They will look to continue the strong connection between quarterback Jaren Lewis and wideout Drey Tyler, who caught five passes for 121 yards and two scores last week.
Lewis has thrown for 16 touchdowns this season, while running back Darren Jordan has rushed for upward of 700 yards and reached the end zone five times.
“They've got a very good running back and a quarterback that can run,” St. Clair said. “That presents problems. We have to defend the whole field, vertically and horizontally, for the run and the pass. This is a perfect situation for us to get better.”
Hannibal is coming off a 48-10 rout over Marshall last week during which the Pirates totaled 392 yards rushing. Pirates running back JaQuez McGruder ran for three first-quarter touchdowns.
“We ran it down their throat pretty much,” Hannibal senior offensive lineman Noah Whelan said.
Whelan and the rest of the offensive line expect a stiffer challenge Friday.
“We're really not going to see anybody as good as them until we make it further into the districts and the quarterfinals and so on,” Whelan said of the Spartans. “We're 5-3 and they're 5-3, so it's really a big game for both of us. If we win this game it'll be a huge momentum change for us. After winning last week, it gives us more confidence to win the next week. We'll all be ready.”
Pirate quarterback Gabe Worthington, who last week ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 29 more and a score, looks to provide similar production in the regular season finale. Waelder and leading receiver Will Whitaker offer big-play potential on the outside to complement the fierce rushing attack.
“It’s methodical,” Battle coach Justin Conyers told the Columbia Daily Tribune of Hannibal's offense. “That offense can grind on you if you aren’t doing your job and that’s been a big point of emphasis this week. Last week I felt the balls behind us came when guys wanted to do other people’s jobs. This is a team you can’t do that against. They bring a lot of pressure also. We have to be ready for it and prepared for it.”
Waelder mentioned the Hannibal offense can't afford to go away from what has worked this season.
“We can't abandon ship,” said Waelder, second on the team with 386 yards receiving and five touchdown catches this season. “We're going to follow the offensive line because they're some of the best players on this team and just run behind them and give Gabe some time to throw the ball to us every once in a while. A big play can definitely turn the swing of the game, whether it's for us or against us. We hope it's for us.”
Defensively, Hannibal will have its hands full responding to an array of formations Battle has used against opponents this season.
“They run downhill really well and they also have some pass formations that we're really going to have to watch,” Schafer said. “Their wide receivers have some speed, so we're going to try to hit them the hardest for sure. We've learned how we all play and we play with each other well. The guy next to us, we have confidence in. We've tried to have confidence in our brothers but also in ourselves.”
Waelder mentioned the defensive unit must treat each Spartan as “the best player on the field.”
“Their offense, you can't really stop one player,” he said. “They're good all the way around. There are some guys that are fast, some guys that are tall. We're going to have to play sound defense if we want to have a chance because you can't just take out one player like some other teams. If you try to do that, they're just going to burn you with somebody else.”
Currently positioned third in the Class 4 District 7 standings, Hannibal can help its playoff seeding with a win Friday. But more than anything else, St. Clair wants his team to treat the matchup as one final test before the do-or-die postseason.
“The biggest thing we're working on is ourselves,” St. Clair said. “Obviously we're preparing for Columbia Battle, and we've got a lot to prepare for, but the main thing is us getting everything squared away and ironing things out and being smart football players.”