Saturday rewind: Hardy, Pirates continue to make dominant defensive plays

Hannibal’s Tyler Hardy sacks Jefferson City quarterback Hayden Wells during Friday's game at Porter Stadium in Hannibal, Mo. (Photo courtesy Mathew Kirby)

HANNIBAL, Mo. — An offense averaging more than 45 points per game tends to grab headlines.

The Hannibal football team’s success hinges just as much on its stingy defense and the energetic approach of first-year head coach Jeff Gschwender.

The Pirates completed a sweep of the Capitol City schools on their schedule Friday night with the 40-13 victory over Jefferson City. The Jays trailed 40-0 before finally scoring in the fourth quarter. They finished with 189 yards of total offense, but had just 25 total yards in the first three quarters combined.

Five of the Jays’ 10 drives through three quarters resulted in negative yardage.

“Everybody did their job,” senior linebacker Tyler Hardy said. “That’s what led to our success.”

Pirates junior linebacker Ashton Watts delivered a sack on the first play of the game, one of 10 tackles for loss by the Hannibal defense. Five players had five or more tackles with four players contributing sacks and six with tackles for loss.

“We’re physical and we’re mentally focused,” said Hardy, who had five tackles and a sack. “All in all, we’re playing as a team and not just one person on the field.”

Collectively, the Pirates are studying the game as well.

“The amount of preparation we’ve put into this and as much film as we watch has us coming in prepared for everything,” Hardy said.

It’s resulting in momentum-swinging plays. Watts had a fumble recovery and an interception as the Pirates forced three turnovers total and limited the Jays to 2-of-5 passing.

“The bigger plays get everyone going,” Hardy said. “It gets everyone fired up and more excited to go out and make another big play.”

Gschwender is responsible for that, too. Elevated from offensive coordinator to head coach during the offseason, the son of Hall of Fame coach Tony Gschwender brings a wealth of knowledge to the game and connects with his players because of his enthusiasm.

“He gets the football team fired up and gets us energetic,” Hardy said.

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