Football is going to be different around here this fall.
For the last 20 years Mark St. Clair has been the Hannibal Pirate Football Coach. With his retirement, the search for a new head coach is getting underway. One era ends, another begins.

Hannibal Pirate football play by play is also part of my late summer and autumn routine. I started calling play by play Hannibal games on a somewhat regular basis in Coach St. Clair’s first season as head coach and caught more than half of the games through 2013 plus complete seasons starting in 2014 here on and on KICK-FM.

The work on those broadcasts starts long before the 6:35 air time on Fridays. The weekly prep routine involves stopping by the Hannibal football office to record a pregame interview. That usually occurs on the day before the game. Mark made those sessions easy. Several years back, I began to get a sense of what to expect in the next game from his demeanor during the interview sessions. Those impressions were something I never shared on the air, but they did influence the final preparation work and how the game was called. From time to time Mark was also helpful in sorting out the starters and regulars for the Pirates and sometimes for the opponent too. Not all opposing coaches are easy to track down. A few are very hesitant to give anything to media from the opponent’s town.

Post game interviews can be a bit iffy, but Mark was always great and forthcoming whether the Pirates won or lost. I also thought it was classy that he spread the post game interview load out in recent years to include assistants Jeff Gschwender and Chris Nicholas. Not all coaches are willing to have multiple spokesmen out there and I think both really added to our broadcasts over the last three seasons.

Three favorite moments..

I began to sense that the 2006 team was headed for big things with an early season win at Helias. The defense always seemed to come up with a big turnover or a stop the right time that year. That defense in 2006 also limited then sophomore Montee Ball at Timberland to something under 50 yards for the night. The 42-41 overtime game in the '06 quarterfinals against Parkway North is the most compelling game I’ve called to date. To this day, I can look at the west goalposts at Porter Stadium and see the PAT to tie miss. A few days later, freshman Mat Sims hit a pair of field goals including one that seemed impossible given the wind down at Farmington that afternoon to help Hannibal into the Show Me Bowl.

The ’16 Pirates scuffled early. I wasn’t too sure what to make of that team after at 28-20 win over Boonville. Things started to change in my opinion with the game at Marshall and a lot of good things were buried in that 50-27 loss to Columbia Battle. I wasn’t comfortable in the Kearney game when the Bulldogs blew downfield to score on their first possession, but the Pirates restored order in a manner I would have considered very unlikely after the first three weeks. One of the great things in calling high school football (and other sports) is seeing a team 'get it' and go on a roll.  The '16 Pirates 'got it' at some point in October. A lot of the credit for that goes to Coach St. Clair and his staff.

Who knows what happens without the holding call on Will Sewell’s would be touchdown run to tie?

Another memorable game was the QHS game in 2012. Hannibal rallied from a huge deficit at the half for a 36-28 double overtime win over the Blue Devils in rain from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac. During the second half comeback at Porter Stadium, I thought it was remarkable that every time Hannibal’s offense came onto the field, the rain stopped. When the Blue Devils were on offense, it poured and the wind picked up. Terry Ahern and I wondered on the air if Coach St. Clair had the rain timed that night.

Several years back, I wound up getting called to substitute on play by play for a Culver Stockton football game. On a whim, I asked Mark if he would sit in and handle the color commentary. I wasn’t surprised when he nailed it that afternoon. Maybe there is a broadcaster’s headset in his future. He’d be a good one.

It couldn’t have been easy to step away for Coach St. Clair. There is a lot of potential on the current Pirate football roster. But that’s a good thing for the next man up as head coach at Hannibal. A new era of Pirate football begins soon.

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