Pirates trump Helias for second time this season behind strong defensive effort; Hannibal to meet Mexico in District 7 championship

It seemed as if everyone at Porter Stadium on Friday was waiting for Helias Catholic's second-half rally.

The Hannibal Pirates' defense made sure it never came.

Shamar Griffith rushed for four touchdowns, and the Hannibal defense limited the visiting Crusaders to a pair of harmless touchdowns as the Pirates advanced to the Class 4, District 7 Tournament finals with a 35-14 victory.

“Defense was absolutely the key to this football,” Hannibal head coach Mark St. Clair said. “Offensively we put some points on the board, but defense was absolutely the key to this football game and hats off to coach (Chris) Nicholas and those boys for doing what they needed to do.”

St. Clair's praise came nine weeks after Hannibal (11-0) defeated Helias on Aug. 28, but not before seeing a 35-0 halftime lead turn into a two-score game late in the second half. The Pirates eventually won that contest 49-35, but allowed the Crusaders to pass for 225 yards and four touchdowns behind the arm of backup quarterback Weston Porter.

Senior Alex Faddoul returned from injury shortly after, and was behind center against the Pirates in this playoff game. He went 11 for 20 for 152 yards and two touchdowns, but was also sacked three times, lost a fumble and never looked comfortable. Faddoul could be see scrambling around in the backfield for a majority of the game as Pirate defenders practically made the Helias backfield their playground.

“He's a big kid, and I didn't expect him to be fast, but he was quick … he was elusive,” Hannibal junior linebacker Dalton Huffman said of the 6-foot, 2-inch, 210-pound Faddoul. “Every time you thought you had him down, (he gained) 5 or 6 yards. But (with) everybody doing their job, everybody playing as a team, we were able to contain him a little bit.”

Huffman (11 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks) and junior defensive back Will Sewell (eight tackles) had several key plays for the Pirate defense, which held Helias (4-7) to 265 yards of offense. Those efforts were part of a defensive showing that paved the way for more offensive success.

Hannibal got on the board first in the opening quarter when Faddoul fumbled while scrambling. Sewell fell on the loose ball to give the Pirates possession at the Helias 39-yard line, and Griffith wasted no time getting to the end zone.

After the junior rushed 33 yards to the opponent's 6 on first down, he ate up the rest of the yardage on the next play for a 7-0 lead with 10:34 left in the first quarter.

He later added to that lead after Hannibal forced the Crusaders to turn the ball over on downs at midfield.

The Pirates used 6 minutes of clock to drive the 50 yards, and Griffith ended the series with a 6-yard burst into the end zone for a 14-0 advantage.

Griffith continued to pad Hannibal's lead, this time in the second quarter, when the tailback reached the goal line from 4 yards out at the 8:26 mark of the second quarter. His final score of the contest came late in the fourth quarter on a 4-yard to make it 35-7. Griffith finished with 137 yards on 30 carries.

“I was just trying to get as many yards as I could,” Griffith said. “They were stopping me at times, but I'm going to get back up and keep doing it until ya'll give up – that's how I see it.”

Speaking of giving up, St. Clair was particularly happy with his players after the group refused to let a series of unfortunate events derail their positive momentum before halftime.

Helias had just scored its first touchdown of the game – a 16-yard pass from Faddoul to senior Adam Bax with 7:37 to go in the second quarter– and the visitors' ensuing kick had Hannibal set up at its own 23.

After a 2-yard gain by Griffith, senior quarterback Jerry McBride looked to pass on second down, but instead was forced to scramble, which he did – for nearly 30 seconds. During the fracas that ensued, Hannibal senior lineman Dylan Powell produced a hard block on a Helias defender that drew a penalty flag for what could only be described as excessive blocking.

The penalty threw the Pirate sideline into a frenzy, especially St. Clair, who was given a warning moments later.

Helias defenders could be seen raising their arms in an attempt to rally their teammates and fans, but the Pirates quickly quieted the visitors once again.

Griffith turned a 2nd-and-25 situation at his team's own 11 into a first down on back-to-back carries of 12 and 17 yards. Then, on first down from his own 40, McBride sliced through the Crusader defense for a 60-yard touchdown and a 28-7 lead with 5:22 left before the break.

McBride finished with 173 yards on 15 carries.

“They responded to everything that happened; that's all we ask them to do,” St. Clair said of his team.

St. Clair said he talked to his team at halftime about preventing Helias from replicating their second-half performance from week two, and was pleased the Pirates never gave momentum back to the Crusaders.

“We talked about it; we knew they'd come out fired up in the second half,” St. Clair said. “I don't know what it is, we've been a first-half team. We've got to start becoming more of a second-half team. But hats off to the kids … they hung in there and did a great job and scored when we needed to and played defense when we needed to.”

Helias had a chance to pull within 14 early in the second half, going from its own 45 down to the Hannibal 4. Faddoul's 34-yard pass to Nolan Sachse started the possession, but four plays from the Pirates' 6 yard line gained the Crusaders a total of two yards. The drive ended when tailback Nathan Back gained just a yard on 4th-and-3.

“I think our kids just really got fired up (after that),” St. Clair said. “That was one of the defining moments of this game.”

Hannibal will now host Mexico in the district tournament title game on Nov. 6. The second-seeded Bulldogs topped Warrenton 38-14 on Friday to advance. The Pirates outlasted Mexico (10-1) for a 28-21 victory in Hannibal on Sept. 11.