HANNIBAL, Mo. -- The conversation begins with Ben Watson. It can't end there.
The Hannibal football players are well aware of that.
Watson is the dynamic dual-threat quarterback that has led Fort Zumwalt East to a 9-2 record and a spot in the Class 4 District 4 championship game Friday night. Yet, if Hannibal gets so caught up in stopping Watson, the Lions are talented enough to burn the Pirates in other ways.
"You can't fall asleep," Pirates coach Mark St. Clair said. "He's got targets. He's got weapons. He's got enough athletes around him to make you pay for forgetting about them."
So as much as the Pirates have focused this week on containing Watson, they haven't lost sight of the bigger picture.
"We're at the point in the playoffs where every team is going to have athletes all over the field, where every team is tough," Hannibal quarterback Gabe Worthington said. "We have to respect what they can do and be prepared for it."
With Watson, the Pirates have to be prepared for all he can do. And that's not limited to offense.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior ranks eighth among players in the St. Louis metro area in scoring with 159 points as he's piled up 25 touchdowns, two 2-point conversions and kicked five extra points. Watson has been equally dangerous running and passing.
He has rushed 212 times for 1,217 yards and 24 touchdowns. He's completed 108 of 214 passes for 1,462 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. ANd he's returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown.
"He's the real deal," St. Clair said. "He's involved in everything they do."
It's been that way for the past two seasons.
As a junior, Watson led the St. Louis area with 39 touchdowns as he set the single-season school record with 2,217 yards rushing. He also threw for 1,603 yards and 15 touchdowns, and he caught a touchdown pass as well. When you factor in he plays defense and special teams, Watson rarely leaves the field.
"He's the key point to everything they do," Worthington said.
Bottle him up and the Lions struggle, as evidenced by their two losses.
In a 48-19 loss to Rockwood Summit, Watson had 78 yards rushing on 24 carries and didn't score until the fourth quarter when Fort Zumwalt East was already down 41-13. He completed only 10 of 27 pases for 115 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Against Fort Zumwalt North, Watson had just 43 yards rushing on 15 carries and completed only 12 of 28 passes for 95 yards with no touchdowns and one interception as the Lions lost 30-12.
"You can't let him make big plays," St. Clair said. "If he gets into the open field, he's tough to bring down. We can't let him get into space."
St. Clair understands as well as anyone what a quarterback like that can do. In 2006, Andrew Bergeson led the Pirates to the Class 4 state championship game with his ability to run and pass. Bergeson threw for 1,037 yards, ran for 884 and was a dynamic defensive back who had eight interceptions that season.
"Watson reminds a lot of Bergeson," St. Clair said. "He's a runner that can also throw the ball."
And he's as tenacious as they come.
"He's a pretty tough safety," Worthington said.
Maybe so, but the Pirates believe their chemistry as a team trumps what one player can do.
"We're a tight-knit group of friends as well as teammates," Worthington said. "I have 100 percent confidence in everyone around me."
He's completed 108 of 214 passes for 1,462 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.
He's rushed 212 times for 1,217 yards and 24 touchdowns
Interception returned 85 yards against St. Charles West for a touchdown
Lost 48-19 to Summit ... 24 carries, 78 yards, TD in the fourth quarter when trailing 41-13, 10 of 27 for 115 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT
Lost 30-12 to Fort Zumwalt North ... 15 carries, 43 yards,TD, 12 of 28 for 95 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT
Tristan Davis, 455 yards on 77 carries with 6 TDs
Donovan Shanks, 18 receptions, 287 yards, 3 TDs
Qui'lon Bennett, 24 catches, 231 yards, 3 TDs
Zack Titone, 112 tackles, 3 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 3 fumble recoveries
He led the St. Louis region in touchdowns scored with 39. He also added three 2-point conversions and he had four extra-point kicks for 244 total points.
Watson rushed for 2,217 yards on 287 carries. He averaged 7.7 yards a carry.
He completed 88 of 178 passes for 1,603 yards and 15 touchdowns. He had 13 interceptions. Watson also caught two passes for 10 yards and a touchdown.
Watson set the record for most passing yards in a game at 371 against Francis Howell North in 2016. Last season, he set the record for most rushing yards in a game against Howell North in with 315.
He set the single-season season rushing record in 2017 with 2,217 yards and rushing touchdowns in a season with 38.