JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. | More than 60 years ago, the Hannibal football team opened its season with a victory against the ballyhooed Jefferson City program.
The Pirates hadn't beaten the Jays since, at least not until Friday night.
A stout second-half defensive effort buoyed by all-state defensive back Drake Dudley picking off the second of his two interceptions propelled the Pirates to a 32-21 victory at Adkins Stadium in their delayed season opener. Hannibal last beat Jefferson City 25-2 to start the 1954 season.
The Jays had won 27 consecutive games, including each of the past two seasons, in the series that dates back to 1935.
“Being a local kid like I am and like Coach (Jamie) Hoskins is and Coach (Jacob) Borgmeyer is, you understand what this means,” said interim head coach Jason Noland, who was a starting lineman for the Pirates 20 years ago. “For a lot of the teams that came so close to winning, a point here or a fumble there against some great Jeff City teams, this is special.
“This is great for the history. It's a great victory for our program.”
Everyone felt it.
Hannibal's Drake Dudley, right, makes an over-the-shoulder catch during the first half of the Pirates' game against Jefferson City Friday night in Jefferson City, MO. The Pirates beat the Jays 32-21 in their season opener. | Photo for the H-W/Mathew Kirby, Courier-Post
“It boosts the enthusiasm for the rest of the season,” Dudley said.
It also showed what is becoming the hallmark of this group — resiliency.
The Pirates lost three fumbles, allowed the Jays to turn a fourth-and-1 play into a 43-yard touchdown run and had an extra point clang off the left upright. And that was all in the first half.
“We were confident we were going to score,” Dudley said. “We were just hurting ourselves.”
It's why the Pirates showed no signs of frustration after the mistakes.
“Our guys understood it was nothing to get down about,” Noland said. “We remind them, 'We get the next play.' They responded to that. It's a glorious way to show our character.”
The Pirates trailed 21-19 at halftime, but on the opening possession of the second half, Hannibal junior defensive back Kaiser Greenwell intercepted a pass in the middle of the field and returned it into Jefferson City territory.
On the ensuing possession, the Pirates converted on fourth and 1 at the Jays' 5-yard line, and quarterback Courtland Watson scored on a 1-yard plunge on third and goal for a 25-21 lead.
Dudley picked off his second pass of the game midway through the fourth quarter, setting up the clinching touchdown.
The Pirates milked the clock with a ball-control drive that culminated with Damien French scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run with 1:54 to play. It was French's second touchdown as he finished with 75 yards rushing.
Watson went 12-of-15 passing for 241 yards with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Joey Worthington. Dudley caught two passes for 75 yards.
Senior linebacker Daylan Reading had a team-high 11 tackles with three tackles for loss as the Pirates forced three turnovers and limited the Jays to 2.7 yards per carry and 4.4 yards per play.
“It saved us the game,” Dudley said of the defensive effort. “Everybody made plays.”