No. 15 Valley enters tricky stretch
The defending Heart of America Conference champions got a big lift last week by defeating 10th-ranked MidAmerica Nazarene.
It wasn’t only that the win was needed to keep its playoff hopes alive after two losses in the season’s first four games, but Missouri Valley College’s 32-7 command of the high-octane Pioneers was a boost in confidence.
“Our kids were real excited to play, and played real hard,” remarked Vikings head coach Paul Troth. “We’ve been trying to put a whole game together, and that’s the closest we’ve come this year.”
The trick for No. 15 Valley now is to maintain that energy level as it comes into a three-game stretch against opponents not likely to factor in the league race as anything more than potential spoilers, starting with Saturday’s contest at Avila (1-6, 1-6 HAAC) -- which has lost six straight.
“You see it happen a lot. You have a big, emotional win, and you come out flat,” Troth admitted his concern. “If we don’t come out and play well ... well, it’s the Heart of America. There’s good teams every week.”
Labeling the Eagles “good” may be charitable, but that isn’t to say they aren’t capable of being troublesome.
Avila has done a good job of controlling the ball, with an average of 18.4 first downs per game and converting 43.4 percent of its third-down attempts.
Junior quarterback Billy Firn has thrown for 205.6 yards per game and senior Laurence Subelka leads an effective three-back rotation with 59.5 yards per game. During a 41-20 loss to Evangel two weeks ago, Troth noted how the Eagles “dominated time of possession.”
“They ran the ball against them better than we did,” Troth said. “They mixed in some play-action and they’ve got good receivers.”
A pair of linebackers, junior Nick Ward-Bopp and freshman Jesse Richardson, have also been good at disrupting opposing offenses -- combining for 18 tackles for loss, eight of them sacks.
“They’re fundamentally sound,” Troth noted. “They make good adjustments and know how to attack your weakness.”
Up until two games ago, that was the Vikings’ passing game.
However, red-shirt freshman Chris White appears to be growing more comfortable with each start, and the receiving corps -- notably talented senior Eric Brown -- becoming more comfortable with him.
Comfortable, though, is not a position Valley (4-2, 4-2) can afford to assume as a team -- not when its next loss will be a knockout blow.
Troth knows that Avila, like all of the Vikings’ opponents, is “going to be fired up to beat us.”
“They know we’re coming off a game we expended a lot of energy and emotion in,” Troth said. “We have to do the same this week.”