The Pirates adjusted at the break and scored three unanswered touchdowns during the second half to remain unbeaten with a 28-8 NCMC decision at Marshall.
"We gave them all they wanted for a half," remarked Owls head coach Jon Stockman. "Came out after halftime, couldn't move the chains and couldn't get a stop."
During the first half, Marshall had a slight edge in offensive plays (31-26), first downs (8-7) and time of possession (24:09-23:51). Even after its second-half explosion, Hannibal was held to its lowest point total of the season.
The Pirates got a break on the opening kickoff, which popped out of senior Louis Burton's hands and out of bounds near its 20-yard line. Officials erroneously ruled it an out-of-bounds kick, prompting a do-over from five yards back.
Senior Jahwaun Cassidy returned the second kick 54 yards, Burton ran twice for 14 yards and junior Mitch Nichols bulled across the goal line from two yards out only 61 seconds into the game.
The Owls responded with an 18-play drive which consumed nearly nine minutes, senior Alex Maupin with eight carries for 32 of the 69 yards. Hannibal dug in and came up with a fourth-down stop on its own 2-yard line.
A 29-yard run by senior Caleb Bieniek allowed the Pirates to switch field position. They threatened when Nichols went on a 34-yard dash to the Marshall 29, but a holding penalty set them back and were forced to punt.
The Owls converted in third down with senior Brandon Johnson's leaping catch near the sideline of a 21-yard Maupin pass. Senior Marc Plummer ran twice for 13 yards into Hannibal territory and Maupin connected with junior Tyler Cott, who split the defense on a skinny post route and sprinted for a 47-yard touchdown with just over three minutes left in the half.
"We just spread them out a little bit and threw it over the top," Stockman said. "We felt real good going into halftime [tied] 8-8 with those guys."
Marshall was forced to punt on the opening possession of the second half, then the Pirates offense went to work -- mostly through the air. Senior Dalton Powell hooked up with senior Justin Price for 46 yards, with tosses to junior Lijah Harrison and Bieniek for another 15 yards, to set up Nichols' 5-yard TD rumble.
Bieniek caught a 23-yard pass and Cassidy had a 32-yard reception on the next Hannibal series, capped by Bieniek's 13-yard run into the end zone.
Powell hooked up with Harrison for 39 yards to the Marshall 11 on the Pirates' third drive, Bieniek bulling in from two yards out with 8:23 left in the game.
"We had some coverage miscues in the second half and some missed tackles," Stockman explained. Without the usual depth with injuries to senior tight and defensive ends Zach Bishop and Austin Stickels, "they wore us out up front a little bit, on both sides of the line."
The Owls got back into Hannibal territory one more time. Johnson made another nice grab for 29 yards and Plummer ran for 10, with a pass interference penalty getting them into the red zone, but Bieniek's interception put an end to that.
Bieniek had 127 total yards and 11 tackles for the Pirates (8-0, 6-0 NCMC), who captured their 14th conference championship. They remain atop the Class 4, District 6 standings, with a date Friday at third-seeded Helias, ranked ninth in the state.
Sophomore Devin Cott made 10 stops for Marshall (5-3, 3-2), which closes out the regular season with a league contest at Boonville, which has won the last four meetings. A win there would secure for the Owls their first winning record since 2006.
"Six wins would be a great thing," declared Stockman, who took over a program which was 0-10 last year. "We've got to work hard in our preparation all week."