Three weeks into the season, and the Hannibal football team is seeing the improvement it has wanted. Last week the Pirates opened North Central Missouri Conference play with a 35-7 win over Boonville that left Hannibal coach Mark St Clair pleased.
“After a pretty good win at Boonville,” St Clair said. “We have got a little bit of our swagger back, the ole confidence in our walk.”
This week, after two straight weeks on the road, the Pirates are back home at Porter Stadium to face Mexico.
“It is going to be great to be in front of the home crowd,” St Clair said. “It’s going to be great so I don’t have to get on the bus.”
But, this week’s game isn’t just another game, it’s the Pirates homecoming game.
“The football team knows their part of homecoming is to play the football game,” St Clair said when asked if there was any extra importance of distractions with the game.
Hannibal has beaten Mexico in the two school’s last eight meetings. Seven of those matchups were conference games and one was a postseason game. Over the last five meetings, Hannibal has shutout the Bulldogs three times.
“We have got to up our game a little bit,” St Clair said. “Mexico has got a good squad with a lot of talented people.”
According to St Clair, this is a much improved Mexico squad.
“They are probably the most improved ball club I have seen in a long time from last year to this year,” St Clair said. “That makes a little more urgency to our training and the kids know that. We are going to have to be at the top of our game.”
While the Pirates want to be at the top of their game, the one thing that has hampered the team this year is injuries.
“We have had some set backs and some people out for a variety of reasons,” St Clair said. “We have also had people step up and that is what good football teams do.”
One of the things Hannibal has working in its favor is a strong corps or running backs. The Pirates have several players that have been successful carrying the ball.
“We have got five or six running backs that can carry the ball,” St Clair said. “We will continue to do that, but we are pretty comfortable with our first two. But, we like to get them some rest and get some other people carries. We are going to get the ball to a variety of people in a variety of ways.”
The Pirates top two runningbacks are Mitch Nichols and Wyatt King. Nichols ran for over 100 yards against Boonville and King twice found the end zone on the ground in the same game. However, Hannibal had three other backs with five or more carries and three other backs with 30-plus yards gained on the ground.
By spreading the carries out, Mexico will not be able to zone in on one player. The Bulldogs will have to keep their eyes and defense open to the fact that anyone can come busting through the line with the ball at anytime.
With all its success on the ground, some teams might forget that Hannibal can pass the ball too. Junior Austin Kirby is leading the Pirates as the quarterback and had three passes last week go for 10-plus yards, including a 64 yard completion to Dalton Overstreet.
St Clair is pleased with the job his QB has done so far and how he is progressing.
“(Kirby) has done a fine job,” St Clair said. “Obviously we want to improve in all areas and that area is no different, but he is has been up to the task and he gets better each day.”
With several players who can catch the ball, the Pirates have plenty of weapons.
Speaking of weapons, Mexico is going to have to watch out for the Pirate defense. Hannibal scored twice last week on turnovers. Jerry McBride returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown and Dylan Powell recovered a fumble for a TD.
Regardless of who is leading the defense, St Clair has been impressed by the way Hannibal’s defense has improved from game to game.
“We have had a bunch of people step up,” St Clair said. “Our linebacker play is much improved. I think the strength of our defense is up front. But we have also seen big improvements from the defensive backfield.”
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Friday night.