Come Friday night here at Dr. Larry K. Noel Spartans Stadium, fifth-ranked Moberly will look to break football habit when some prominent things are on the line when ninth-ranked Hannibal serves as their opponent.
In addition to this Week 7 feature being a battle amongst Class 4 state-ranked programs, both schools are undefeated in North Central Missouri Conference play and they are fighting for playoff position within District 6.
“There is no misinterpretation by our players about who is on our schedule this week. I think this is a game that has been on the back of our kids’ minds for a long time and now it has arrived. I can tell they are very excited about this game with Hannibal and now we’ll see just how well we come out and mean business on the football field,” said Moberly football coach Jason Ambroson. “There is two ways for us to look at this big football game. One, it’s awesome. Go get it and play the best game you can. Two, we better be careful in what we wish for too because if we are not prepared to take on the beast then be wary of the beast.”
“What we have in front of us is the opportunity to work and prepare for a lot of things during practice that will help us to play against the beast. If we fail to prepare and execute properly, then that will reflect on us on the field in this game. This football game is going to be a biggie for us and for Hannibal. I have no doubts about that.”
Starting tomorrow night, Moberly (6-0, 3-0 NCMC) will want to break an old habit in which the Spartans have come up empty 18 times in the last 19 football meetings with Hannibal (5-1, 4-0 NCMC), including a 34-22 loss a year ago. The Spartans are hungry to reverse that trend.
The last time Moberly defeated Hannibal was the magical 2007 season in which the Spartans defeated the Pirates by a 39-22 score en route to Moberly’s 11-1 record, a conference and district championship and Class 3 state quarterfinal appearance.
“I would expect fans attending this Friday’s home football game to see a hard-hitting, physical football game with two very well-coached programs. I would expect for them to see two teams that are well-disciplined and play with class,” said Ambroson. “People can expect to come into a stadium and hear some loud music that gets kids pumped up and excited, and seeing fans from both sides cheering hard and getting enjoying all the things that happen at our place under the lights on a Friday night.”
Hannibal is coming off a solid 61-32 win against Fulton in Week 6 behind the 320 rushing yards provided by senior running back Mitch Nichols. This is the fourth-most rushing yards during a single game in Pirates football history.
Nichols, who rushed for more than 1,100 yards as a junior, found the end zone four of the 39 times that he carried the football against Fulton, and he added three receptions worth 66 yards and another score for good measure.
“The Nichols kid has started to rack up a whole lot of rushing yards in part because instead of him playing both offense and defense, and now he just plays offense and they feed him the ball most of the time. Nichols is probably one of the most talented football player in our conference at running back,” said Ambroson. “As a coach, when you want to be successful you try methods to get the football into the hands of your best players. He is Hannibal’s best player in my opinion and he gets the job done.”
Hannibal used a trick play, the hook-and-ladder, which netted 30 yards to set up one of its scores.
The Pirates are leaning on a contingent of three running backs. Nichols has a team-high 800 yards on 130 carries and has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the last four weeks. Meanwhile junior Wyatt King has netted about 280 rushing yards and freshman Shaman Griffith nearly 200.
“They are a football program that has identified their offensive identity in running mainly out of the Power-I, split back or I-Formation because it works for them and they just run with it year after year,” Ambroson said.
Ambroson gives Hannibal head coach Mark St. Clair much credit for the program’s successful history. St. Clair is into his 18th year at the helm of the Pirates where he has compiled a coaching record of 138-48 prior to the start of this 2013 season. In the last five seasons, the Pirates have been North Central Missouri Conference champions and have lost just one conference game during that span.
“We have good coaches in our conference, and Mark St. Clair is one of them,” said Ambroson. “He has been their head coach for a lot of years and has developed a really good football program and he has had much success.
Tomorrow night the undefeated Spartans will march into its arena to the sound of bagpipes filling the airways as they come off a 24-6 triumph a week ago at conference rival Marshall.
Two of the Spartans touchdowns last Friday came as a result of fumble recoveries.
Moberly’s ‘D’ has been resourceful in these past six games coming away with six fumbles and eight interceptions. The Spartans are at a plus 10 in the turnover category, and the defensive unit also has racked up 45 tackles that went for a loss and has seven QB sacks to its name.
Moberly has outscored their opponents by an average 39-10 margin compared to Hannibal’s 33-20.
With its passing game slightly out of rhythm while operating out of the spread, Moberly’s recently has been relying more on running the football while its offense generates more than 400 total yards per outing.
The Spartans continue to use at least three to four ball carriers per game. Junior Gregg Bain has padded his season rushing total to 616 yards on 82 carries (7.5 avg.) while senior Dimaja Smith has rushed 43 times for 335 yds. (7.8).
Senior quarterback Justin Connaway has completed 59 of 113 passes for 818 yds., 9 TDs and zero interceptions. Blake Joiner leads the squad in receptions with 19 (217 yds) and Dupree Alexander has caught 17 passes netting 346.
“We have been able to play good, solid, team football during the course of this season. Our offense has been able to move the football when they need to, and our defense has been able to get stops when needed. Our defense also has been very opportunistic in getting turnovers, and that has led us to having good field position to work with,” said Ambroson. “I think we have been in control of our games to this point, but we have not really found a way to provide that knock-out punch to put teams away. We will play well in spurts, and then we have had a tendency to relax and play it easy. That kind of play will not work against Hannibal and it won’t work the rest of the season.”
“Our kids need to develop a sense of urgency, and play at that high level from start to finish. We really haven’t done that yet.”