Hannibal went blow for blow with the defending Class 5 state champions before hanging on for a thrilling 42-35 upset victory that capped the Pirates' undefeated regular season.
Jerry McBride literally ripped himself from the clutches of a defender, completed a 77-yard touchdown run and, in a bit of symbolism, ripped victory away from Battle High School.
It may have only been a game-tying touchdown in the first quarter, but the Hannibal senior quarterback’s big run set the tone for the Pirates on a night they lived by a “Respond” mantra.
Respond is exactly what Hannibal did, going blow for blow with the defending Class 5 state champions before hanging on for a thrilling 42-35 upset victory that capped the Pirates’ undefeated regular season.
“We haven’t had an undefeated season in years,” McBride said. “I’m emotionally unstable right now.”
Said undefeated season appeared to be in jeopardy in the game’s opening seconds when Brennen DeMarco returned Hannibal’s opening kickoff 70 yards for a score and a 7-0 lead.
But McBride and the Hannibal offense didn’t panic.
“All week we were told one word – ‘Respond’” McBride said. “That’s what we did all night.”
McBride ignited a bevy of Hannibal responses starting with the second play of Hannibal’s ensuing drive.
One play after a near turnover, McBride cut through the Spartan defense on second down, getting to the Battle secondary before being captured by the tail of his jersey. But McBride kept running, and eventually tore a fistful of his jersey from the hands of a would-be Spartan tackler to complete a momentum-changing touchdown with 10:56 left in the first quarter.
“We just wanted to run our gameplan, and we went out and ran it well,” McBride said. “Our linemen blocked great … they blocked down … and I just made a great run.”
The positive momentum created by McBride’s score carried over as Hannibal (9-0) recovered a Spartan fumble on the hosts’ next series.
Pirates senior Devon Thomas came up with the football, putting it into the hands of dangerous junior running back Shamar Griffith. Starting at the Battle 31-yard line, Griffith carried the ball on all three HHS plays, finishing the drive on a 17-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 edge with 9:15 to go in the opening quarter.
After a Battle punt, Griffith teamed with fellow junior Eric Jones to chew up 74 yards on 13 plays. Griffith gained 49 yards on the drive while Jones added 19. The scoring drive ended with a 4-yard tumble into the end zone by Griffith.
He added a 3-yard touchdown with less than three minutes to play in the first half, and put the proverbial nail in the coffin on a 76-yard scoring run midway through the fourth quarter that gave Hannibal a 42-28 cushion.
Friday’s win closely resembled the Pirates’ 49-35 victory over perennial powerhouse Helias Catholic in week two. Hannibal led 35-0 in that contest before Helias put on an offensive show over the final 24 minutes. It was Griffith, however, who sealed that victory with a 66-yard score, and with the Spartans cutting Hannibal’s 21-point halftime lead to just 35-28 in Friday’s second half, Griffith practically replicated his game-winning heroics.
A 55-yard Brevinn Tyler pass to Chyrome Thorpe had Battle within 35-28 with 11:45 left in the game, but after the Hannibal defense stalled the Spartans on fourth down deep in Pirates territory, Griffith took over.
On his team’s subsequent possession, Griffith took the second snap from scrimmage and cut through the Battle defense untouched for the long touchdown.
“During that type of situation, I just tell myself, ‘Just give it all you’ve got,’” Griffith said. “The linemen, they did their blocking assignments perfectly, the hole was right there, Eric Jones had a perfect lead block, and after I got past the secondary, it was all history.”
Griffith finished with a game-high 309 yards rushing with four touchdowns.
Facing a Battle squad loaded with weapons in its passing game, Hannibal head coach Mark St. Clair never strayed away from his game plan: chew up clock.
With 475 rushing yards, that’s exactly what the Pirates did, holding on to the football for 27:54. McBride had 105 yards on nine carries, while Jones chipped in 59 on 12 touches with a touchdown.
“We had a plan, and our plan was to hold on to the ball so (Battle) couldn’t have it,” St. Clair said. “They’re too dangerous offensively to let them have the ball often, so we wanted to eat some clock, we wanted to string together some first downs and that’s what we did.”
Battle (7-2) countered Hannibal’s potent rushing attack with a passing game that totaled 306 yards. Tyler went 18-of-24 passing with three touchdowns, finding five different receivers for completions of no less than 13 yards. Thorpe had seven catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
The Spartans kept pace with Hannibal, totaling 417 yards of offense to the Pirates’ 496.
But in the end, St. Clair’s counter attack worked to perfection, as the contest ended with the ball in his team’s hands.
“I think this was a little bit of a statement; I think we had a bit of a chip on our shoulder,” St. Clair said. “We didn’t think we were getting the respect we deserve, I’ll just be honest. But we’re 9-0 now.”