HANNIBAL, Mo. — For the first time in the postseason, Hannibal’s football team was pushed.
And make no mistake about it, the Pirates pushed right back, triggered by sophomore sensation Aneyas Williams.
Williams provided another eye-popping performance, this one included five touchdown receptions on a Friday night that saw him reel in 12 catches for 172 receiving yards from senior quarterback Courtland Watson.
Hannibal needed everything Williams supplied — and more — to outlast West Plains 35-26 in a Class 4 quarterfinal playoff game before a standing-room-only crowd at E.A. Porter Stadium.
“We’re making history,” Williams said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
The undefeated Pirates (12-0) matched the single-season school record for victories and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 2006 and just the third time ever. Hannibal will face either Vashon or North County on the road next Saturday.
The Wolverines and Raiders are scheduled to play their state quarterfinal at 1 p.m. Saturday in Bonne Terre, Mo.
Hannibal’s 12th victory was in doubt until late in the fourth quarter.
Enter Williams, plus the strong arm of Watson.
Moments after Hannibal’s defense, which was trying to protect a 28-26 advantage, stopped a late-fourth quarter threat from West Plains — thanks to defensive back Markahl Humphrey blocking a 22-yard field goal try by Zizzers kicker Chase Larson — the Pirates cemented the victory.
Williams and Watson connected on a 77-yard touchdown pass with 4 minutes, 28 seconds to play. Williams simply outran a collection of West Plains defenders after catching the pass down the middle of the field.
Watson’s extra-point kick gave the Pirates their eventual final margin of victory and Hannibal’s defense, buoyed by late-game interceptions by Kaiser Greenwell and Daquan Powell, stymied a pair of last-gasp bids by West Plains.
Hannibal coach Jeff Gschwender said he felt West Plains may have been expecting a run on the Watson-to-Williams clincher.
“Aneyas split the seam in the secondary,” Gschwender said. “He’s tough to cover.”
Williams’ explosive night — which also included scoring catches of 5, 14, 10 and 38 yards — elevated his season totals to 55 receptions, 1,148 yards and 21 touchdown receptions. Throw in 859 rushing yards and he has more 2,000 total yards.
“I don’t come into a game with any kind of plan,” Williams said. “I just listen for the play calls and try to do whatever it takes. I try to never get too high or too low.”
WIlliams’ five-touchdown performance increased his career touchdown count to 63, including 42 this season. Only Shamar Griffith (90) has scored more touchdowns at Hannibal. Griffith (544), Wentric Williams (396) and Aneyas Williams (380) are the top three in career points scored.
“The best thing about (Williams) is that he’s all about the team, and whatever is needed for the team to succeed,” Gschwender said. “Both Williams and Watson are leaders, and anything can happen when they’re on the field.”
Watson completed 16 of 27 passes for 295 yards and is moving closer to becoming Hannibal’s first 2,000-yard passer in a season. He has thrown for 1,796 yards and 32 touchdowns.
“This was the biggest win of my career,” Gschwender said. “It feels good. West Plains was a real good team. The momentum went back and forth so many times.”
West Plains quarterback Dagen Kenslow entered the game with 31 touchdown passes and 1,993 yards passing. He finished 10-for-25 for 171 yards and a pair of touchdowns, doing most of his damage in the first half when the Zizzers scored three of their four touchdowns. Hannibal led 21-20 at intermission.
The win over West Plains represented Hannibal’s final home game of the season. The Pirates ended 7-0 at Porter Stadium, where it outscored its opponents 356-57, including postseason victories over Warrenton (76-6), Jefferson City (47-0) and West Plains.
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