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 wasnâ€™t only that the win was needed to keep its playoff hopes alive after two losses in the seasonâ€™s first four games, but Missouri Valley Collegeâ€™s 32-7 command of the high-octane Pioneers was a boost in confidence.
â€śOur kids were real excited to play, and played real hard,â€ť remarked Vikings head coach Paul Troth. â€śWeâ€™ve been trying to put a whole game together, and thatâ€™s the closest weâ€™ve come this year.â€ť
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 Saturdayâ€™s contest at Avila (1-6, 1-6 HAAC) -- which has lost six straight.
â€śYou see it happen a lot. You have a big, emotional win, and you come out flat,â€ť Troth admitted his concern. â€śIf we donâ€™t come out and play well ... well, itâ€™s the Heart of America. Thereâ€™s good teams every week.â€ť
Labeling the Eagles â€śgoodâ€ť may be charitable, but that isnâ€™t to say they arenâ€™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 â€śdominated time of possession.â€ť
â€śThey ran the ball against them better than we did,â€ť Troth said. â€śThey mixed in some play-action and theyâ€™ve got good receivers.â€ť
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.
â€śTheyâ€™re fundamentally sound,â€ť Troth noted. â€śThey make good adjustments and know how to attack your weakness.â€ť
Up until two games ago, that was the Vikingsâ€™ 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 Vikingsâ€™ opponents, is â€śgoing to be fired up to beat us.â€ť
â€śThey know weâ€™re coming off a game we expended a lot of energy and emotion in,â€ť Troth said. â€śWe have to do the same this week.â€ť