Courier-Post sports editor Joe Alberico breaks down five takeaways from the Hannibal, Palmyra and Mark Twain football games.
1. Hannibal: 9-0h my
Hannibal High School football fans probably sensed this squad was brewing up something special at Porter Stadium. A (somewhat) unexpected win over Helias only set the tone for the Pirates, who averaged 50 points per game. Hannibal held six of its nine opponents to 14 points or less (one shutout), and was held under 30 points just once. The Pirates’ biggest win may have come in week nine, however. Hannibal traveled to then-No. 3-ranked Battle High School and went blow for blow with the Class 5 defending state champions. Armed with dangerous pass catchers, Battle gave the Pirates a run for their money, but Hannibal head coach Mark St. Clair’s plan of grinding out the clock via his potent rushing attack worked like a charm. In the end, Hannibal won the possession battle and held on for a 42-35 upset.
2. Shamar “Mr. Clutch” Griffith strikes again
In tight game situations, Hannibal junior running back Shamar Griffith admitted he gives himself a little pre-snap pep talk.
“During that type of situation, I just tell myself, ‘Just give it all you’ve got,’” Griffith said Friday.
That statement came after Griffith put the finishing touches on Hannibal’s 42-35 upset win over Class 5 defending state champion and then-No. 3-ranked Battle. Griffith rushed for 309 yards and four touchdowns, but his final score was certainly the most important. With the Pirates nursing a 35-28 lead with 7:27 left in the fourth quarter, Griffith reeled off a 76-yard touchdown run to give his team a 14-point edge. It proved crucial, as Battle’s strong passing attack produced another score on the Spartans’ next drive. It was the second time this season Griffith scored late to put a game on ice, as he went 66 yards for a score against a rallying Helias Catholic squad with 5:37 left to give his team some much-needed breathing room in a 49-35 win on Aug. 28. With HHS opening the District 7 Tournament on Friday, more clutch performances from Griffith could go a long way in getting the Pirates to St. Louis.
3. Mark Twain: 9-0h wow
It has been said before, but asking for an undefeated season out of Mark Twain High School would have been a little greedy. The Tigers were coming off a two-season stretch that saw them combine for a 5-16 record, and were entering 2015 with new head coach Karl Asbury. But then, senior running back Tyler Elledge turned into Usain Bolt in shoulder pads, and carried MTHS to victory before being slowed with an injury. Without missing a step, Asbury shuffled the load over to juniors Terry Monroe and Brandon Hamilton, who decimated defenses until Elledge returned. What happened, however, is that MTHS discovered it has THREE rushing stars, not just one. Nine weeks later? 9-0. Give credit to the Mark Twain offensive line and defense, too, as both have played a vital role in this team’s success.
4. Palmyra rediscovers itself
Against (now) 2-7 Monroe City or not, the Palmyra Panthers needed to find its offensive rhythm in week nine. In games seven and eight, the Panthers scored six total points in losses to Centralia and Brookfield, as the loss of senior running back Travis Harvey hurt the PHS rushing attack badly, especially in week eight. On the road against Monroe City, the Panthers trailed 12-3 at the half, and 12-10 after three quarters, but found a rushing options in Philip Bland and Clayton Hudson. The pair of running backs scored twice in Palmyra’s 23-point fourth quarter, and Hudson paced PHS with 155 yards and two scores. As of this publication, Harvey’s status for Friday’s District 6 Tournament opener against Montgomery County was unknown, but Bland and Hudson may be strong secondary options even if the senior starter returns.
5. There’s nothing like some positive momentum
With district tournaments beginning this Friday, Hannibal, Mark Twain and Palmyra all picked up wins to close out the 2015 regular season. Confidence is never a bad thing, and each HCP area squad should have plenty heading into Friday. Hannibal upset Class 5 defending state champion Battle, while Mark Twain routed Montgomery County. That should bode well for Palmyra, which erupted for 23 points in the fourth quarter of its week-nine win, and hosts Montgomery this week. There’s no telling who has the tougher road to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis (site of the state championship games), but that designation may go to Mark Twain. The Tigers share their district bracket with 9-0 Valle Catholic, the back-to-back Class 1 state champs. Hannibal could see a rematch with Helias Catholic, while Palmyra may run into one of three previous opponents on its way to the final four. With that said, six more (hopefully) exciting weeks of football remain in 2015.