MOBERLY, Mo. — The Hannibal football players’ focus couldn’t be broken.
Not by the coronavirus. Not by injuries or off-the-field distractions. And most importantly not by Moberly.
Despite the Spartans answering the Pirates’ game-opening touchdown with an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive, Hannibal reacted with unwavering resolve. The Pirates scored four unanswered touchdowns to close the first half Friday night with a 28-point lead and propel themselves to 48-13 victory in the Class 4 District 4 championship at Dr. Larry K. Noel Spartan Stadium.
“Our focus was really good, really strong,” Hannibal junior offensive lineman Caden Selle said. “We focused well all week and showed it on the field.”
Vengeance had a hand in that, considering the 14-13 loss to the Spartans during the regular season cost the Pirates the North Central Missouri Conference title.
“We were very focused,” Hannibal senior tailback Damien French said. “Coming back against a team that whooped us already, we had to be focused. We came back with the mindset of revenge.”
The district title mattered more than the conference championship anyway.
“We knew the end goal from the first day of summer workouts,” senior linebacker Daylan Reading said.
Playing without head coach Quentin Hamner, who missed the game for personal reasons, the Pirates (8-2) knew the only way to reach that was to play flawless. They turned the ball over twice while averaging 6.6 yards per carry and 7.2 yards per play. Defensively, they forced four turnovers and limited Spartans quarterback Dominic Stoneking to 10-of-23 passing for just 88 yards.
Stoneking had thrown just two interceptions in the first nine games. Hannibal picked him off three times.
“We had one goal and that was to be playing next week,” said Jason Noland, Hannibal’s acting head coach. “We came out and played really well and played pretty clean. That’s the biggest thing for us. If we can play clean on offense and defense and limit the big plays, we can be a dangerous team.”
It should catch the eye of both MICDS and St. Dominic. The Rams (4-0) and Crusaders (7-4) will play for the District 3 championship at 1 p.m. Saturday with the winner coming to Hannibal next week. Date and time are to be determined.
Beyond the final score, next week’s opponent likely took note of French’s performance, too.
He capped the first drive with a 13-yard touchdown run and kept pummeling the Moberly defense with both bursts off the edge and shoulder-forward drives in the middle of the field. The end result was the kind of effort expected from an all-state back as he finished with 226 yards and four touchdowns.
“He was an animal,” Selle said.
He had reason to be.
“I didn’t want to let a lot of fellas down,” French said. “I had to run my hardest and do my part.”
“Damien was unbelievable,” Hannibal junior quarterback Courtland Watson said. “We put him out there and he was just running over people.”
It helped to get off on the right foot.
Hannibal’s Markell Humphrey returned the opening kickoff 65 yards to set up a four-play, 25-yard scoring drive for a 6-0 lead less than two minutes into the game. After Moberly answered, Hannibal proceeded to score on three of its next four drives.
“We knew our offense was better than theirs,” Watson said.
All it needed was an ignition. Humphrey and French provided that.
“We like to set the tone quick,” French said. “Once we set that, we go out there and finish it strong.”