The long voyage to Hannibal is finally here.
Bolivar hopes the momentum of last week's win travels with them all four hours to 0-2 Hannibal Friday night, Sept. 7. The Pirates, of the North Central Missouri Conference, will be the first Class 4 opponent for the Liberators after back-to-back weeks facing a Class 3 team and a Class 2 foe.
Bolivar coach Glen Johnson said he is expecting a combination of the team’s first two opponents, in the size of Eldon and athleticism of Liberty High School of Mountain View-Birch Tree.
"Wednesday was a great practice," Bolivar coach Glen Johnson said in an email. "We came out very focused and got better. We are going to see a similar situation as Eldon, but bigger, and athletic like we saw last week. We will have our hands full."
Hannibal is guided by coach Mark St. Clair. His team has been snake-bitten so far this season if anything. They battled a pair of Jefferson City schools and came up short on both occasions. The Pirates lost 30-27 at Class 6 Jefferson City last week, despite out-gaining the Jays in yardage 465-277. In week one, the Pirates dropped a 35-34 decision to Helias Catholic after driving for a touchdown to close the gap to one point. Hannibal rolled the dice and were turned away on its two-point conversion attempt by Helias.
"We have played two really good teams and have competed very well," said St. Clair in an email.
The Pirates' veer-option offense is guided by dual threat senior quarterback Gabe Worthington. He passed for 278 yards and two touchdown and an interception. He can also run the ball, with 159 rushing and three total touchdowns.
Senior running back JaQuez McGruder and Damien French will get a lot of touches for the Pirates. Main targets for Worthington include Dezi Jones, who snagged three balls for 185 yards and a touchdown. The Pirate running game will be something Bolivar has to stop, after gouging Jefferson City for 300 yards last week. The Liberators rush defense held Liberty to 87 rushing yards last week, but are allowing 240.5 rushing yards per game.
Overall, Hannibal's offense is averaging 455.5 yards and 32.5 points a game, outgaining both opponents they faced.
St. Clair said that he has been proud of his teams' efforts the first two weeks, despite the results.
"We have to focus on ourselves not our opponent. We have to correct some things and discipline our game," he said.
Bolivar comes off a 20-14 home last week over Liberty. Seth Smith had a big night rushing and leads the team at 148 rushing yards with 4.8 yards per carry. Hayden Burks has 504 yards on 64-percent passing with four touchdowns, and Brock Pitts comes off a school record 13 catches last week, leading the team in receiving at 209 yards and two scores.
The BHS offense is averaging 362.5 yards and 23 points a contest.
"We need to continue to minimize the mental errors and win the line of scrimmage (on offense)," Johnson said. "On defense, we need to continue to get better at lining up, tackling and causing turnovers."
Johnson hopes to minimize the long trip's effect on his team by breaking it up with a stop in Jefferson City. He said taking a charter bus up to Hannibal should help, as well.
"We are taking a very young bunch four hours north, and we are planning to split the trip in two 2-hour segments," he added. "We will make a pit stop in Jeff City, and then get to Hannibal a little early to get our minds right."
Johnson was very clear on what it would take for a Bolivar win Friday night at Hannibal.
"We need to win the line of scrimmage, control the ball, sustain drives and finish in the red zone," he said. "Our defense will need to align correctly, tackle well and win the turnover battle. I told the boys, it will come down to who can fight one more round. We have a lot of odds against us, but our boys are together, and they are excited for the opportunity."
St. Clair added he respects the Liberators' winning tradition.
"Bolivar has a rich history and has always been a well-coached and class program," St. Clair said.
The Liberators are hoping for a big crowd to make the trip to northeast Missouri. The administration was planning to hold a barbecue of hot dogs and hamburgers at Hannibal Middle School, but announced Wednesday that it was cancelled due to the weather forecast. They will attempt the barbecue at another road game.
The game kicks off at 7 p.m. at Porter Stadium at the high school athletic complex, 4500 McMasters Ave. (U.S. 61).