Pirates squander opportunity to capture state quarterfinal victory

Pirates quarterback Courtland Watson throws a pass as he is being pressured by a Rams defender in Saturday’s state quarterfinal game at Porter Stadium.

HANNIBAL, Mo. — The lead, the possession and the opportunity to score.

Consider it the perfect trifecta.

What the Hannibal football players came to understand Saturday afternoon, though, is not all trifectas pay out.

A blunder by MICDS kick returner P.J. Behan on the opening kickoff of the second half gave Hannibal the ball on the 6-yard line with the chance to double its halftime lead. Instead, the Pirates were stonewalled on four straight running plays, losing a fumbled handoff on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line.

“That was a big missed opportunity,” Hannibal acting head coach Jason Noland said.

It changed everything. The Rams put together a 94-yard scoring drive to tie the game at 20, took the lead for good with four minutes to play in regulation and left Porter Stadium with a 48-34 victory in the Class 4 state quarterfinals.

“That was enormous for us,” MICDS coach Fred Bouchard said of the goal-line stand to open the third quarter. “We could at least say we dodged a bullet. You just know in games that are pretty competitive and both teams are pretty good not everything is going to go the other team’s way.

Tied at 34 when they took possession at their own 17-yard line and 11:47 to play in regulation, the Pirates reached midfield in six plays, five of which were running plays between the tackles. On second and 7 from the 46-yard line, Pirates quarterback Courtland Watson attempted a pass over the middle that he let go while being hit.

Rams defensive back Bobby Byrne got both hands on the ball, but was hit while coming down and lost the ball as he fell backward. The back judge called it an interception and gave possession to MICDS.

The Hannibal sideline clamored for it to be ruled an incompletion because Byrne never appeared to have possession of the ball, but to no avail.

“The officials told us they had possession,” Noland said. “They were sticking by their call.”

The Rams made it hurt. Buoyed by a pass interference on third and 16, MICDS drove 74 yards while chewing more than five minutes off the clock and got a 32-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Reagan Andrew to Behan to take a 41-34 lead with 4:07 to play.

Hannibal turned the ball over on downs on its ensuing possession, and MICDS’s Steven Hall ripped off a 24-yard scoring run to put the lead out of reach.

MICDS forced four turnovers and converted three into touchdowns. Hannibal scored off just one of MICDS’s turnovers as the Pirates squandered multiple opportunities to extend the lead in the first three quarters.

“They’re not all mistakes, but some of them are just what-could-have-beens,” Noland said after the Pirates finished 8-3 with their second state quarterfinal loss to the Rams in the last three seasons. “As coaches, we kick ourselves on calls all the time. We know we’re not perfect, but our players and our staff did everything they could to give us a chance.

“At the end of the day, we had our opportunities and we didn’t capitalize on all of them. They capitalized on more of them.”

Meanwhile, Watson went 6 of 16 for 182 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions, while running back Damien French had 148 yards rushing on 26 carries and freshman all-purpose back Aneyas Williams caught four passes for 146 yards and three scores.

However, the Pirates turned the ball over on downs twice and converted just 3 of 9 third downs and 1 of 5 fourth downs. The Rams were 6 of 11 on third down.

“Our guys just stood toe-to-toe and hung in there and made plays,” Bouchard said. “They found a way to be successful.”

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