The goal is plain and simple for the Hannibal football team in its North Central Missouri Conference opener at Mexico on Friday.

The goal is plain and simple for the Hannibal football team in its North Central Missouri Conference opener at Mexico on Friday.

The Pirates need to continue stopping the run. 

Mexico (2-1) relies on a plethora of ball carriers led by senior Dillon Nichols. Coach Steve Haag's Bulldogs have rushed for 703 yards through the first three games of the season — accounting for 80 percent of their offense. 

Hannibal (1-2) has allowed an average of just 94 yards on the ground per game during losses to Helias and Jefferson City and a win over Bolivar.

“Coach Haag has made Mexico successful by running the ball and playing physical football up front,” Hannibal coach Mark St. Clair said. “He coaches their O-line and they sprint off the ball as well as anyone. The key for us is to stop the run.

“They will eat the clock and try to put together long drives.”

The Pirates thwarted Bolivar's offense in the rain last Friday en route to a 49-12 victory. Hannibal surrendered just 76 yards rushing on 23 carries for an average of 3.3 yards per pop.

Jordan Schafer led the Pirates with seven tackles in the victory, while Adriec Brumbaugh and Daylan Reading each came up with multiple stops for loss.

Opponents have had more success against Hannibal this year through the air than on the ground. Of 11 touchdowns the Pirates have given up, seven have been via the passing game.

Mexico quarterback Ty Prince has thrown for an average of 58 yards per game with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Last week Prince completed 4 of 7 passes for 37 yards during a 35-25 win against Marshall.

Running back Nichols paced the Bulldogs with 128 yards rushing on 19 carries in the win.

Hannibal operated like a machine on offense a week ago, scoring on its first seven possessions and converting all seven third-down plays in the first half. 

The Pirates made good on all five drives in the red zone.

“We are moving the ball well on offense,” St. Clair said. “We have to continue to improve our execution and cut down on mistakes. Last week we played very solid on the offensive side. There are some little details that we need to iron out to be really great on offense.” 

Damien French is off to a breakout campaign in the Pirates backfield. So far this year, the sophomore has rushed for 300 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the team while averaging 8.8 yards per touch.

JaQuez McGruder has rushed for 270 yards and three touchdowns this season, while Gabe Worthington has run for 200 yards and three scores.

Worthington has also thrown for 383 yards this year, with Dezi Jones his top target with six catches for 215 yards.

Shannon Dorsey, who leads Mexico with 18 tackles and five for loss, is a key cog for the unit standing in Hannibal's way in Week 4. 

"They’re not going to do anything different," Haag told the Mexico Ledger of his upcoming opponent. "They’re going to do what Hannibal does, and we know what that is, and they know what we’re going to do. The kids are just going to have to be ready.

“We want to make ourselves better and Hannibal will do that.”

Friday night presents an opportunity for Hannibal to start its conference slate on a good note.

A win would improve the Pirates to .500 overall on the young season.

“Last year Mexico beat us here at home,” St. Clair said. “We will need to keep our focus and play 48 minutes of solid football. They will not beat themselves. It's the start of conference play. We need to set the tone for the year.”