For the past five weeks, every team the Hannibal Pirates’ football team has faced has been stumped by how to score against a stout defense.


For the past five weeks, every team the Hannibal Pirates’ football team has faced has been stumped by how to score against a stout defense.
Friday night, the Helias Crusaders found a way more so than any other team has this season when they beat the Hannibal 42-17 for only the Pirates’ second loss of the season.
Hannibal head coach Mark St Clair said the loss came down to one thing — turnovers.
“When you make mistakes against a good football team, it is going to bite you and it did tonight,” St Clair said. “But, we can’t point fingers at this mistake or that mistake. We got beat by a good football team. I give credit to Helias.”
At the start of the game, the Pirates appeared to be in their usual form when Mark Nemes sprinted down the field on the first play of the game for a 32-yard gain.
But an issue that hasn’t really plagued the Pirates since they played Poplar Bluff in the third game of the season, turnovers on fumbles, reared it head when Lenny Clark gave up the ball on the very next play.
From there, it only took the Crusaders three plays to snap Hannibal’s shutout streak when Brad Wilson broke away for a 48-yard gain, putting the Pirates into a game of constant catchup, as St Clair said. In total, the Pirates went 269 minutes and six seconds without giving up a single point. The Pirates fumbled once more in the half, making it that much tougher on the defense.
“I think it’s a different ball game if we don’t fumble two of the first four possessions,” St Clair said. “... It’s tough to beat teams when you fumble the ball. But, it happens in the NFL. It happens in college. It happens at all levels. It’s something that you deal with, and I think it is something that we can take care of.”
The Crusaders would get on the board one more time before the Pirates could capitalize on their field position and put a seven-spot up when Mark Nemes scored from two yards out. Nemes, who finished the night with 204 yards on 30 carries, was Hannibal’s biggest offensive weapon Friday night.
Unfortunately for Hannibal, Helias was not finished with its first half, coming up with two more touchdowns before the clock read zeroes.
In the second half, the wind that had frozen player and fan alike throughout the first half turned into an ally for the Pirates early. As it had done to the Pirates earlier in the game, the gale coming out of the east stopped a Crusader punt in midair, giving Hannibal excellent field position at their own 20-yard line, which was soon followed by a Lenny Clark touchdown.
That drive, in particular, proved one point. While the score might not have reflected it, the Pirates did have some success moving the ball. Both teams were comparable on the ground, with Hannibal rushing for 276 yards to Helias’ 321.
“We fought the field position all night,” St Clair said. “But, we moved the football. We were very good on the run. The wind affected our pass a little bit, but we just didn’t execute as well as we needed to do to win the game.”
Hannibal had other highlights in the second half, such as an interception and a field goal, both of which were to the credit of Mat Sims. But Helias continued to rely heavily on its option-based offense and Wilson to move down the field, which both did with success. Helias quarterback Clint Distler had two touchdowns in the second half, both within the red zone, which put the contest out of reach.
St Clair said part of the reason both Wilson and Distler were able to come up with multi-touchdown games was the inability of his defense at times to wrap up Helias’s backs.
“We didn’t tackle well, but I think you have got to give their backs credit for some of that,” St Clair said.
Nevertheless, the Pirates will still move on to the playoffs, capturing the second spot from the District in a repeat of last season. They will play Ft. Zumwalt East Wednesday night on the road, while the Crusaders will host Warrenton. However, if both teams come away with a victory in the first round, there is a possibility of a rematch on Nov. 9.
“We’ve just got to regroup,” St Clair said. “We can’t sit around and worry about what we did or didn’t do. We’ve got to regroup. We’ve got to get ready for Ft. Zumwalt East. If we do it right, we’ll get another shot at them.”