After getting a three-touchdown lead in the first half, the Vikings didn't allow visiting Baker to chip into it all -- recording three shutout quarters Saturday during a 28-7 Heart of America Conference victory.
"We had to have it," MVC defensive coordinator Chad Haynes said about his unit's performance. "We knew we had the talent to play; it was just a matter of becoming a family as a unit."
Of course, it's a lot easier to play defense when the offense puts the opponent into an early hole, which Valley did during a three-play sequence within the game's first two minutes. It started with a 59-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Roy Harden to freshman tight end Ryan Ross.
"I was running a corner route and the offensive line gave the quarterback time so I could give the fake to get open," Ross explained. "I thought I was going to get caught."
Baker junior Justin Cobb fumbled the ensuing kickoff, recovered by freshman Andre Mullin of MVC at the Wildcats' 24-yard line. Harden struck immediately, finding senior Taurance Gainer for the score.
By the time Baker's offense got on the field, it was down 14-0 -- not good news for a team with an anemic passing attack. Still, a 14-yard flip from senior Martin Updike to sophomore Gerald Kennel on third down and eight yards to go spurred the 'Cats' drive, which saw junior Jon Reeves carry five times for 35 yards before Updike took it in from five yards out.
The teams exchanged punts, and turnovers -- on the same play, when freshman Robert Smith coughed the ball up on the end of a 28-yard interception return. When the Vikings got possession back, senior Lee Norman ran for 19 yards, sophomore Todd Durrant caught a 17-yard pass and Harden connected with Ross again for an 18-yard touchdown.
"They were leaving the deeper routes open, so we were going to them instead of checking off underneath," noted Valley head coach Paul Troth. "We wanted to be aggressive in the play-calling."
That continued on Valley's next series. Senior Andrae Lopez had receptions of 16 and nine yards, senior Clay Lasater bulled for 11 yards after a catch and Gainer took in a 17-yard touchdown strike with 7:39 left in the half.
"I thought we gave Roy a lot of time," said senior guard Nathan Bestgen. "We knew how to block" the 'Cats' four-man front "real well. Everybody was picking up their man."
Now it was up to Valley's defense, and it did the job. Sacks by Mullen and freshman Enrika Roberts stalled two drives and sophomore Greg Gaumer recovered a Baker fumble with 1:08 remaining in the half -- although the Vikings couldn't punch the ball in.
"We were just trying to get our assignments done," Gaumer said. "If we could do that, it would open up our 'backers."
Baker only threatened to score once during the second half, Reeves rushing five times for 39 yards to get his team to the MVC 10. Viking senior Matt Hannan knocked down a pass and freshman Brian Drawdy of the visitors clanked a 27-yard field goal attempt off the goal post.
After that, the 'Cats (1-2, 1-2 HAAC) were unable to move consistently, and Valley's defense pinned its ears back and charged -- sophomore Sadrac Remy getting his second sack on a corner blitz, jarring the ball loose from Updike at his own 8. Junior Mike Matranga scooped up the ball and waltzed into the end zone, but the official had blown the play dead.
"All I could think about was 'Just hit the quarterback,'" Remy remarked. "Coach put me at the right time to do my thing."
"We wanted to get back to playing our style of football," Haynes observed. "We're doing a lot of zone blitzing. It allows us to disguise our coverage a bit more."
Whatever the Vikings were doing, it worked. Although the offense was unable to pad the lead, much to Troth's chagrin -- "We're not putting people away. We've got to fix that, be productive both halves," he said -- the Valley defense didn't relent.
"We realized we had to match their intensity level," Gaumer asserted. "This is the first time we've played four full quarters."
That will be even more vital on the road Saturday against a Culver-Stockton squad which is tied with the Vikings (2-1, 2-1) in the standings. Is Valley starting to jell? "I'd like to think so," Troth answered.
"Time will tell over the next two to three weeks," he asserted. "You either get better or get worse."