HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Being able to adapt on the fly was the key to success for the Hannibal football team in a 40-15 victory over St. Dominic in the Class 4 District 4 semifinals Friday night at Porter Stadium.
The second-seeded Pirates (7-4) advance to face top-seeded Wentzville Liberty on the road next Friday for the district championship.
Friday night, St. Dominic (7-4) got on the board first as quarterback Tyler Mersnick found Luke Thomas wide open in the back of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown.
Hannibal responded on the next possession with a six-play, 54-yard drive capped off by Courtland Watson's 1-yard touchdown. Watson added the extra point to tie the game at 7 with 8:55 to go in the second quarter.
The Pirates scored again just before the half as Watson connected with Preston Bennett for a 16-yard touchdown pass. Watson's kick gave the Pirates a 14-7 lead with 1:26 to play in the first half.
Despite the lead, it was evident the Pirates needed to make some changes.
"We don't know exactly what we're going to get from teams." Hannibal coach Quentin Hammer said. "We have to look at what they're doing and make some adjustments."
One of those adjustments was allowing Watson to make reads in the option game.
After Hannibal's Daylan Reading recovered an onside kick on the opening kickoff of the second half, Watson waisted little time finding the end zone. On the second play of the drive, Watson rushed for 20 yards on an option play to get inside the Crusaders' 30-yard line.
On the next play, Watson broke free for a 28-yard touchdown to extend the Pirates' lead to 21-7 one minute into the second half.
"The onside kick gave us a spark." Watson said. "That really got us going,"
The Pirates found their spark alright, scoring 19 straight points.
On the next possession, the Pirates stuffed a fake punt and took over at the St. Dominic 35-yard line.
"We had to feel them out in the first half," junior safety Drake Dudley said. "In the second half, we just shut them down because we knew exactly what they were going to do."
The following Hannibal drive took eight plays, capped off by Damien French's 2-yard touchdown run that gave Hannibal a 27-7 lead with 5:18 remaining in the third quarter.
Hannibal forced another three-and-out and took possession at its own 36-yard line. The Pirates marched down the field behind French's runs of 3, 17 and 30 yards before French found the end zone from 3 yards out for his second touchdown and a 35-7 lead with 1:08 remaining in the third quarter.
In the final quarter, the team's traded touchdowns as Mersnick capped a 12-play, 82-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown. Hannibal scored its final touchdown with 2:39 left in the fourth quarter as Watson added his third rushing touchdown with a 23-yard scamper.
"Courtland is just so smooth back there," Hamner said. "His ability to read defenses puts us in really good positions."
Watson carried the ball 10 times for 104 yards. He also completed 9 of 17 passes for 125 yards.
Hannibal 40, St.Dominic 15
23 First Downs 12
47-322 Rushing 35-140
125 Passing 85
447 Total yards -25
9-17-2 Comp-Att-Int 7-19-2
2-1 Fumbles-lost 0-0
4-30 Penalties-yards 1-7
St.Dominic 0 7 0 8--15
Hannibal 0 14 19 7--40
S -- Matthew Reinsch 25 pass from Tyler Mersnick (Colin Courtois kick good), 5:05
H -- Courtland Watson 1 run (Watson kick), 8:55
H -- Preston Bennett 16 pass from Watson (Watson kick), 1:26
H -- Watson 28 run (Watson kick), 10:58
H -- Damien French 2 run (kick failed), 5:18
H -- French 4 run (kick failed), 1:08
S -- Mersnick 1 run (Matthew Willenbrink run), 4:55
H -- Watson 23 run (Watson kick), 2:39
RUSHING -- Hannibal, Damien French 27-157, Courtland Watson 10-104, Daylan Reading 3-26, Kadin Morgan 2-17, Tyler Hardy 3-16, Markhal Humphrey 1-2, Team 1-0.
PASSING -- Hannibal, Watson 9-17-2-125.
RECEIVING -- Hannibal, Hardy 3-45, Joey Worthington 2-42, Preston Bennett 3-30, Reading 1-8.