The North Central Missouri Conference might include other teams such as Kirksville, Moberly, Fulton and Marshall, but the only one the Mexico football program seems to have on its collective minds every offseason is Hannibal.

The reason for that is quite clear and that's Pirate's head coach Mark St. Clair and the respect the entire Bulldogs coaching staff has for him, most notably head coach Steve Haag. Now that St. Clair has announced this will be his final year of coaching, the stakes will only get higher. But, consider the fact Mexico won at Hannibal last year and this contest could become a battle of attrition in which physical football will be redefined in this area for some time to come.

"Hannibal is always the benchmark for our conference year in and year out. They're always at the top of the conference, even if they don't always win it," said Haag. "I think they were third in the NCMC or tied for second with us. They're a bigger school. They're the biggest school in the conference. When we start looking down the road, you always want to do well in the playoffs and districts and you have to test yourself against teams that are district-caliber type teams and Hannibal is one of those teams."

According to Mexico's team stats after three games this season the squad has rushed for 703 yards and six touchdowns. The Bulldogs have also gone 3-for-14 throwing the ball with no touchdowns and two interceptions, making it obvious what they do well on that side of the ball and what they need to imrpove between now and game time.

"They'll be one of the better teams on our schedule for the remainder of our schedule until we get to districts. That's typically how it is, and it should be," Haag said. "That's probably how it should work out. They're as good as any team we'll face in districts, so this will be a good litmus test for us to see where we are so far this seaso. We'd probably like to have a couple more games to get ready and fine tune some things, but that's how the schedule works out."

The defense is quite another story for Mexico and is led by Shannon Doresy with a team-high 18 tackles after three games, Ty Prince and Zach Watkins have a pair on interceptions while also combining to make 19 defensive stops and Dante Billups and Dillon Nichols have been absolute machines out there with 16 tackles each so far in 2018-19. Jasean White has returned an interception for a touchdown in addition to making 10 defesive stops this season, s well.

"They're not going to do anything different. They're going to do what Hannibal does and we know what that is and they know what we're going to do," said Haag. "The kids are just going to have to be ready. Each week the test gets a little bit more difficult and that's what we want. We want to challenge ourselves and see what kind of football team we are. We want to make ourselves better and Hannibal will do that."

So far this season the Pirates, 1-2 overall, 0-0 NCMC, started the campaign by losing at home to Helias 35-34 on Aug. 24 and at Jefferson City 30-27 at Aug. 31 before finally winning 49-12 at home against Bolivar on Sept. 7. Mexico is 2-1 overall, 1-0 NCMC.