HANNIBAL — Led by Drew Harris’s four rushing touchdowns, the Hannibal varsity football team fended off Port Byron/Springs for a 41-27 victory Friday during homecoming week.
Warriors quarterback Zach Shortslef and tailback John Ruggio had touchdowns as well in addition to Harris’s big night on the ground.
Hannibal head coach Mike Kitts gave praise to Harris for leading the pack and helping the Warriors run away with a victory.
“Drew stepped up, and he’s only a sophomore,” Kitts said. “He’s got great vision and good speed. He does everything we ask him to do. He works hard in practice and that’s why he’s having success.”
It was a high-scoring affair, but a slew of turnovers due to fumbles, interceptions and over-the-head snaps between the Warriors and Panthers made for a teeter-totter shift in momentum.
In the end, Hannibal kept Port Byron/Union Springs in check to solidify the win.
“It was ugly, but a win is a win,” Kitts said.
The Panthers started with the ball in the first quarter, but was quickly forced into a fourth-and-out.
Hannibal came into their first possession with a purpose. Highlighted by a 28-yard run by Harris to move into their territory, the Warriors’ drive ended with a 1-yard QB sneak for a TD from Shortslef at 6:59 in the first. Harris’s point-after was good, giving Hannibal at 7-0 lead.
The Panthers, however, had a rapid turnaround on their next possession. At 6:26, QB Mason Helmer connected with wide receiver Gavin Smithler for a 65-yard TD catch. Smithler booted the PAT and the game was knotted at 7-7.
The tie didn’t last long, as Harris took it to the house for a 63-yard TD run with 2:42 left in the first. Harris fell short on the PAT, but Hannibal took a 13-7 lead.
The Warriors held on to their lead going into the second quarter. At 10:22, the Panthers’ Johnathan Everhart carried the ball, cut to his right and ran downfield past Hannibal defenders for an 18-yard TD run, tying the matchup at 13-13.
The rest of the second quarter belonged to Harris. A 1-yard TD run at 6:12 then 3-yarder at 1:21 put the Warriors up 25-13. Hannibal kept that cushion heading into halftime.
Much like the beginning of the second quarter, the Panthers started the third quarter with a bang. Caleb Dymock received the ball in the quarter’s opening kickoff, and proceeded to dash to the end zone for the score. Smithler tallied the PAT, slicing the deficit to 25-20.
Midway through the third, John Ruggio gave Hannibal a chance to keep its distance by two scores with a 5-yard TD run at 5:24. At the end of the third, the Warriors were riding a 33-20 advantage.
Port Byron/Union Springs wasn’t going down without a fight as the teams took the showdown into the fourth quarter. The Panthers had more fire at the start of the quarter, with Helmer keeping the ball and running down the right side of the field for an 18-yard rushing touchdown. Following the score, Smithler kicked the PAT and decreased Hannibal’s lead to 33-27.
The Panthers took a valiant effort to score again, but the Warriors defense kicked into high gear with a turnover on downs, thanks to a pass deflection from Shortslef and a sack each from Hunter Dumas and Anthony Crofoot.
“For the past couple weeks our defense has been playing well,” Kitts said. “We put them in a hole, like muff a punt, but you can’t put that on the defense.”
Harris put the icing on the cake at 1:26 for Hannibal with an 11-yard run for his fourth and final TD of the evening.
“We didn’t play our best game, but the kids toughened up at the end, got a nice stop on defense and punch one in to seal it,” Kitts said.
The Warriors (2-3) are back home this upcoming Friday as they host Cato-Meridian for a 4:30 p.m. matchup.
Kitts mentioned how his team needs to prepare for every angle of the Blue Devis’ attack.
“We have to clean up the mistakes,” he said. “We can’t put the ball in the turf. It’s a huge rivalry game for us. They’re one of the top dogs in the division so we have to go out and get after them.”