OLATHE, Kan. -- The MidAmerica Nazarene University football team celebrated Homecoming by ending two years of frustration Saturday.
The sixth-ranked Pioneers had finished second in the Heart of America Conference standings the last two seasons, losses to Missouri Valley being a major reason. However, they eased that pain by inflicting a 43-25 upset on the No. 3 Vikings, who hadn't allowed more than 17 points to an opponent this season and yielded the most points since losing to Baker, 45-24, three years ago.
"We played a very good team and made too many mistakes to win," admitted MVC head coach Paul Troth, who saw his team's 13-game conference win streak to come to an end.
MidAmerica jumped in front on its first possession, an 80-yard third-down pass from senior Stinson Dean to senior Pat Ealy. However, Valley seemed to recover, junior Adrian Trevino's 37-yard field goal capping a 10-play, 56-yard drive and a botched Pioneer punt attempt setting up sophomore Chris White's 1-yard quarterback sneak to take a 9-6 lead into the second quarter.
That period would be the Vikings' undoing. MidAmerica marched downfield 75 yards on 13 plays to score on a 16-yard Dean toss to senior Kendall Addison. White then fumbled a shotgun snap and was tackled in the end zone for a safety a play after being sacked by senior Mike Deavours, the first of his three stuffs.
With the short field from the ensuing kick, the Pioneers were able to cover the distance in nine plays, a 17-yard catch by sophomore Brock Drumm giving the hosts a 22-9 halftime lead.
"They had a couple of long, time-consuming drives," Troth said. "We didn't get enough snaps in the quarter and left our defense out there too long."
Valley threatened to close the gap on its second possession of the third period, finally getting the ground game going with senior Robert Holmes running five times for 38 yards. But, as was the case on their final drive of the first half, the Vikings were stopped on downs in the red zone.
Ealy broke off a 53-yard run and Dean found junior Chris LaCount with a 17-yard scoring strike. Valley answered with White's 51-yard bomb to senior Javion Jones and the defense came up with a quick stop early in the final frame.
The Vikings immediately fumbled on their own 31-yard line and the Pioneers made them pay with a 10-yard Ealy TD run.
It took only two-and-a-half minutes for Valley to reduce the deficit to 36-25 on White's 11-yard pass to senior Jonathon Nunez with 11:22 left in the game, and once again the defense got the ball back.
With 7:47 remaining, the Vikings had to go almost exclusively to the air -- White hooking up with Jones for gains of 19 and 43 yards to reach the MNU 6. On second down and goal to go, junior Steve Kiburz stepped in front of a White pass at the 2-yard line and returned the interception 98 yards for a death-knell touchdown.
"It was like we took one step forward and two steps back" the entire second half, Troth remarked.
Valley threatened once more, but for the third time in the game was stopped on downs deep in Pioneer territory.
Dean threw for 217 yards and four touchdowns, but two Ealy gains accounted for 133 of the 329 yards in total offense racked up by MidAmerica (7-0, 7-0 HAAC).
Jones caught six passes for a career-high 200 yards for the Vikings (5-1, 5-1), who will entertain Avila for Saturday's Homecoming, now with "less margin for error" -- according to Troth -- in its quest for a third straight NAIA playoff appearance.
"We still have four tough games left and everything we wanted to accomplish is still out there for us," Troth declared. "It's just a little tougher now."