Courier-Post sports editor Joe Alberico breaks down five takeaways from the Hannibal, Palmyra and Mark Twain football games.
1. Week 9 should reveal a lot about undefeated Hannibal
After a recent stretch of easy victories, including week eight’s 57-14 thrashing of Marshall, Hannibal will get its biggest test in arguably seven weeks when they travel to Battle High School on Friday. Battle, the Class 5 defending state champions, are 7-1 this season after suffering a 44-14 blowout loss to Jefferson City. Battle and Hannibal are familiar foes, as the Pirates were on the wrong side of a 28-14 decision in the teams’ week-nine meeting a season ago. Hannibal has been pouring on the points since week one, scoring at a rate of 51.6 per contest. And the defense has done its part, too, allowing just 14 points per game. With senior quartberack Jerry McBride and junior running back Shamar Griffith (1,726 rushing yards, 26 touchdowns) leading the offense, and a solid defense to boot, both Hannibal’s dynamic scoring duo and its stingy defense should be relishing over what should be a big challenge in the final week of the regular season. Passing that test with flying colors could mean good things for Hannibal’s playoff future.
2. Healthy Elledge returns to form for Mark Twain
After dislocating his left shoulder and then being used sparingly in a three-week span, senior running back Tyler Elledge was used heavily in week eight and went full steam ahead. Elledge erupted for 299 rushing yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers downed South Callaway 18-6 on the road to win the Eastern Missouri Conference championship for the first time. Mark Twain showed that, without their No. 1 rusher, they could still have success as junior tailbacks Brandon Hamilton and Terry Monroe pounded opposing defenses on the ground as Elledge worked his way back. But the 8-0 Tigers are unquestionably more dangerous when Elledge is healthy and on his game, and with a fully-intact three-headed monster at coach Karl Asbury’s disposal, teams are going to have to scheme perfectly to slow the Tigers. Montgomery County (0-8) hosts Mark Twain on Friday to close out the regular season, giving Elledge another chance to regain his early-season form as the Tigers prepare for a deep postseason run.
3. Pirates staying healthy
Thanks to those previously-mentioned easy victories, Hannibal has been able to test its depth over the past several games. With multi-touchdown leads by halftime, the Pirates have been able to give their second, third and even fourth-string offense and defenses extended looks. This has kept the Hannibal starters and rotation players fresh and injury-free in the process. Hannibal head coach Mark St. Clair expressed gratitude on Friday over the fact his team has avoided serious injuries aside from senior linebacker Colton Gottman’s season-ending back injury in week one. The Pirates may not be awarded the same luxury Friday against Battle (7-1) however, but a healthy Hannibal team is in better position to put up a fight with fresh legs and healthy muscles.
4. Palmyra tries, fails to pass
One week after seeing its running game hit a wall called Centralia, and losing starting running back and senior Travis Harvey to an apparent sprained ankle, Palmyra was forced to change up its gameplan in week eight. Senior quarterback Ben Cheffey threw 32 passes, but completed just nine for 83 yards and an interception that was returned for a touchdown. It all added up to zero points as Brookfield rolled to a 20-0 victory in Palmyra. Cheffey shouldn’t shoulder all the blame, however, as he hasn’t been forced to throw the ball much this season with Harvey and a plethora of Panthers pounding defenses via the rush. But without Harvey leading the way, PHS’ offense slipped. Monroe City (2-6) is on the schedule this week, and could be the perfect opponent for Palmyra to right the ship before the playoffs.
5. MTHS’ success is a surprise – to everyone else
After finishing 0-10 in 2014 and 5-6 a season ago, and also adding new head coach Karl Asbury for 2015, it’d be fair to say Mark Twain’s current undefeated run is a surprise. To everyone but its players, that is. On several occasions, Tiger juniors and seniors have admitted they looked forward to playing together on MTHS’ varsity squad this season, envisioning a wealth of success on the field. So, not only are the Tigers good football players, apparently they’re psychics as well. Very little has gone wrong for Mark Twain, as the team has remained mostly healthy aside from a Tyler Elledge shoulder injury. Add in the fact that Mark Twain recently secured its first Eastern Missouri Conference title in just its second year of league residency, and its easy to see why the third- and fourth-year Tigers were so confident in their intuition.