Just gotta believe: Pirates’ ability to put trust in each other and their commitment leads to championship game berth


Hannibal senior quarterback Courtland Watson and the Pirates are one victory away from becoming the third team in program history to win a state championship. Photo courtesy Mathew Kirby

HANNIBAL, Mo. — To achieve everything the Hannibal football team already has and could more potentially come Friday, one thing needed to be clear from the start.

You just gotta believe.

The Pirates had it in their heads they could be a state championship-caliber crew before taking a snap.

“I think it came the first day of weights in the summer,” senior all-state left tackle Caden Selle said. “We all kind of collectively thought we could do it and this is our year.”

That belief never waned, not when West Plains pulled within two points in the third quarter of the Class 4 state quarterfinal or when two turnovers resulted in a 14-7 deficit in the first quarter of the state semifinal against North County. Nothing could dissuade their belief in each other.

“It took a lot of determination,” senior quarterback Courtland Watson said. “No one ever had a doubt because we believed in each other. We knew we were capable of great things.”

One more victory allows the Pirates to celebrate the greatest achievement of all.

Hannibal (13-0) faces Smithville (12-0) at 11 a.m. Friday at Faurot Field on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia for the Class 4 state championship. It is the second title game appearance in program history as the Pirates look to become the third program in school history to win a state title.

The Pirates won a boys state track championship in 1930 and a state softball title in 1990.

No one associated with the football program sees that as pressure. It’s viewed as an opportunity.

“It’s the chance for us to make history,” senior linebacker/wide receiver Tyler Hardy said after the semifinal victory. “It’s our job to be ready and take advantage of it.”

To that end, it’s been a relaxed, yet focused week of preparation.

“I think that was a little bit of our problem last week with the way we started,” Hannibal coach Jeff Gschwender said. “I think we were a little tight. We were kind of tight all week, even the coaches. We’ve kind of said this week we need to have fun.

“We need to work on stuff and fix the stuff that needs fixed, but we’re going to run our stuff. So let’s just go out there and loosen up a little bit and have fun. And I think everyone is really enjoying it and having fun.”

When you’re averaging 49.7 points and have won 13 games in a row, it should be fun.

No one this season has been able to slow the vaunted Pirates’ offense. Neither West Plains nor North County could, as the two teams that were a combined 22-2 before facing Hannibal allowed the Pirates to churn out 758 yards and 77 points.

Now comes this stiffest test to date. Smithville has allowed just 88 first downs and 114 points this season, while limiting opponents to 3.3 yards per carry. Hannibal’s stout offensive line and stable of playmakers is different than any Smithville has played.

The Pirates like to argue they’re tougher, too.

“Both mentally and physically,” Selle said.

That’s because this group believes the heartbreaking finishes the previous two seasons and the maturity and growth over that time pays off Friday.

“It’s about hard work throughout this year and previous years,” Selle said. “We’ve all had this common goal forever. We finally get the chance to see it.”

That’s why nothing has changed this week as far as practice schedules 

“We approach it like every other game,” Selle said. “Prepare and work hard. We’ve been doing this for a while now, and we have to take our shot. It’s our time.”

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