When junior Jonathon Nunez fumbled away the opening kickoff at the Vikings' 23-yard line, it set up visiting Evangel for an early touchdown. Valley would never catch up during a 22-12 loss to the Crusaders, severely damaging its hopes for repeating as Heart of America Conference champion.
"You never want that or expect that," Troth said about the quick turnover. "We played the whole first quarter in our end and couldn't get out of the hole."
Senior quarterback Derek Rasmussen made the Vikings pay for their slow start, firing three TD passes to sophomore Brenton Roggow -- for 8, 60 and 53 yards -- in the first 17 minutes to give Evangel a 19-0 lead.
It didn't help Valley that its ground game again had trouble getting untracked, although the defense gave the team a chance by blanking the Crusaders until the game's final minute.
"It throws us out of sync a little bit," Troth admitted about the inability to establish the run early. "They did a good job of defending us up front."
Valley finally got on the board when sophomore punter Trevor Gies fumbled a snap in the end zone and was dropped for a safety. The ensuing kick gave the Vikings good field position, and they cashed in when junior Javion Jones caught freshman Chris White's lob over his shoulder at the goal line for a 39-yard reception.
It wouldn't be until late in the third quarter that Valley again got in position to score, putting together a 12-play, 44-yard drive to reach the Crusaders' 8-yard line before stalling. However, senior Joe Park missed a 25-yard field goal try wide to the left.
"You get down there, you've got to put points on the board," Troth said. "We just missed too many opportunities."
The Vikings got another chance early in the fourth quarter when junior Robert Holmes broke off a 66-yard run to reach the Evangel 10. A holding penalty pushed them backwards, but senior Eric Brown -- who was to draw three pass interference penalties against the Evangel secondary -- caught a 14-yard pass to get in range for a 20-yard field goal by junior James Justus.
Down 19-12 with 8:50 left, Valley's defense came up with the stop it needed and Jones brought a punt back 33 yards to the MVC 48. Holmes carried for 18 yards to reach the Crusaders' 30, but senior Chris Bodoin knocked down a fourth-down pass to Jones with 5:52 to go.
Once more, the Vikings needed the defense to halt Evangel, but it couldn't do it. The Crusaders got a helpful pass interference penalty on third down and 14, then senior Shedrick McClenton ran for 12 and 15 yards to move Evangel (3-1, 2-1 HAAC) to within striking distance for junior kicker Erik Brown -- whose 35-yard three-pointer with 33 seconds remaining clinched the win.
"Twelve points is not going to beat a good football team," Troth declared. "We've got to do better than that."
Trailing league-leading Lindenwood by two games in the standings, and with four one-loss teams ahead of them, the Vikings (2-2, 2-2) are going to have to scrap if they want to return to the NAIA playoffs -- still a possibility, albeit one with no margin for error.
"We still have some of those teams to play," said Troth, whose squad is at winless Central Methodist this week. "We just have to rebound."