Vikings finish season below .500
It's going to be a winter of discomfort, if not discontent, for the Missouri Valley College football staff.
The Vikings' first loss to Central Methodist in eight years, a 28-13 Heart of America Conference decision Saturday at Gregg-Mitchell Field, capped the only losing campaign in head coach Paul Troth's three years in charge.
"What I'm going to have to do is look at the season as a whole and try to figure out what we have to do to get better and what direction we need to go," Troth admitted.
Although disappointing, especially after having been picked for fourth place in the HAAC preseason poll, Troth's main focus -- other than the ever-present need to recruit -- may be nothing more significant than changing his luck. Valley lost four games by a touchdown or less, compared to Troth's 8-2 first year when it won five such contests.
This one was close, too, the Vikings trailing by a mere point in the fourth quarter before turning the ball over three times down the stretch. The Eagles, entering the game with an NAIA-leading 25 interceptions, picked off five passes.
On Valley's second possession, though, junior Roy Harden burned Methodist's vaunted secondary -- shaking a near sack to hit sophomore Michael Wilder with a 70-yard touchdown bomb.
"When you have two good teams on the field, it's who can make a big play," Troth said. "We made one early, but didn't make enough of them."
The Eagles came up with one of their own later in the quarter, sophomore Kershawn Kimble sprinting 48 yards to tie the score.
An interception by Bruce Thomas gave Valley the ball at midfield. Senior Jason Rogers' 12-yard catch got the Vikings as close as the CMU 20-yard line before junior Gary Burley booted a 38-yard field goal.
Freshman Reggie Singletary sacked Kimble to set up third and 11, but then sophomore Michael Crump caught a 15-yard pass to keep the drive alive. Crump then hauled in a 13-yard toss on fourth and 3 to set up freshman Seth Bauman's 1-yard TD plunge to make it 14-10 at halftime.
"They came out in some things we hadn't seen all year," Troth noted. "Once we adjusted to it, we did okay."
Valley had to go back to grinding against the Eagles' tough defense. Neither team could get much going until the Vikings moved late in the third period, sophomore Ralph Volcin logging runs of 19, 13 and 27 yards and sophomore Ryan Ross making a 12-yard snag. Again, after reaching the Methodist 12, the drive stalled and Burley kicked a 30-yard field goal to close the gap to 14-13.
If Valley could make a stop, it would have a chance. It couldn't, even after a rush by senior Ian "Bubba" Verts of Marshall put the Eagles in second down and 30 at their own 22. Kimble found junior Jamar Parrish for 48 yards and connected with freshman Barry Yocum on a 22-yard scoring strike.
"It's frustrating to have them stopped, then let them slip out of your fingers," Troth said. "If we were up by a score or two, you don't worry about it."
The Vikings were unable to threaten after that. Sophomore Justin Wisdom recovered a Volcin fumble to end the ensuing series then senior Brian Byers came up with his third pick of the game, returning it 35 yards for the clinching touchdown with 4:46 remaining.
"We did the things we said we couldn't do," Troth remarked. "We had some turnovers and we wanted to run the ball, but couldn't do it consistently."
Senior Keyon Howard also had an interception, putting him first in the nation with 12 -- one ahead of Byers. Kimble, entering the game with a 41.1 completion percentage, was good on 16 of 23 attempts for 236 yards to lead Methodist (4-6, 3-6 HAAC).
Volcin ran for a season-high 110 yards and Verts and seniors Mike Matranga and Daniel Catlin each had 10 tackles for the Vikings (4-6, 4-6), which had only 10 upperclassmen play their final game. While Valley improved significantly on defense from a year ago, with a relatively young unit, in Troth's view the record was "miserable."
"As coaches, it's not acceptable," he declared.