Finally healthy, Hannibal's offensive line proves it can be dominant

Posted: Oct. 10, 2013 3:31 am Updated: Oct. 24, 2013 4:15 am

Herald-Whig Sports Writer

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Sophomore Dylan Powell doesn't plan to one day tell his children or grandchildren how he helped pave the way for senior Mitch Nichols to gain 320 yards on 39 carries last Friday.

Committing to that would imply Powell believes Nichols' outing against Fulton was uncommon. Powell instead wants it to become the norm down the back stretch of the season.

"We want that to happen every week for Mitch," said Powell, an offensive tackle for the Hannibal football team. "I'm not really going to look back at it because we expect that every week. That should happen every week if we do our job every play. He does his thing, and he's going to get it done."

Powell's expectation might not be completely unfounded. Although performances such as Nichols' are certainly rare -- his 320 yards rank as the fourth-most single-game yards in Hannibal history -- the Pirates' ground attack should remain steady now that their offensive line is in tact.

Hannibal (5-1, 4-0 North Central Missouri Conference) has battled injuries throughout the year, and the O-line hasn't been immune to that. It's believed Friday was the first game the line of Powell, Pake Zerbonia, Brett Wessel, Gus Meyer and Jordan Wilson have all been both active and close to full speed.

Zerbonia, Meyer and Wessel all have missed some game action. Plus, Nichols battled a sprained ankle early in the season.

"It's been a Ferris wheel of changes," Hannibal coach Mark St. Clair said. "We finally got the group back that we anticipated that we haven't had yet. We got it back on Friday, and … they were ready to play, and I think it showed."

St. Clair said the line's performance in Hannibal's 61-32 win over Fulton was impressive in two ways. No. 1, the Pirates got a solid initial push. No. 2, the linemen quickly got to the second level of the defense on the runs of big yardage.

That helped spring Nichols, who leads the area with 800 yards on 138 carries, for some long runs.

"It's always good when your running back comes flying past you," said Wilson, the team's center.

As a team, Hannibal rushed for 432 yards Friday, topping its previous season high of 340, which came in Week 5 in a 33-20 win over Kirksville.

"It feels amazing. You know you did something right there," Wessel, a guard, said of Friday's outing. "All the holes opening up, they were pretty big sometimes."

St. Clair showed he had faith in his linemen, too.

With Hannibal leading 27-20, the Pirates had one untimed down from Fulton's 8-yard line that was preceded by a penalty before halftime. Instead of calling a pass to the end zone, St. Clair opted to give the ball to freshman running back Shamar Griffith, who ran in for a touchdown.

"It feels great that coach trusts us," Wessel said.

That trust extends to the backfield.

"They opened up holes nice," Nichols said. "They make it pretty easy on myself and (fellow running back) Wyatt King. They make it fun."

Hannibal, ranked No. 9 in Class 4, and its ground attack should be tested Friday, when it plays an NCMC road game against the No. 5-ranked team in Class 4, Moberly (6-0, 3-0).

Moberly's defense ranks as the best in the conference, as the Spartans are surrendering 9.5 points per game. Every other team in the NCMC is allowing at least twice that many points per game.

"They're a tough team, but I think we can put points up on them," Wilson said.

They can if the offensive line controls the line of scrimmage like it did against Fulton.

"We know (Nichols) is going to work his butt off all week, and he's going to run hard, so we need to keep blocking hard and finish our blocks," Powell said.


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