"We knew what we had to do," remarked senior linebacker Jonathan Durham of Marshall after what was possibly his last game on Gregg-Mitchell Field. After losing two of three games to fall out of the league title race, which they had been favored to win, the 14th-ranked Vikings "had to make a statement for everyone to see that we're still in" the NAIA playoff hunt.
That is likely to be decided this week at No. 7 Lindenwood, what Durham called "Super Bowl time."
"If we win, we hope to keep playing," offered Valley head coach Paul Troth. "A loss would certainly be the last game of the season."
The winless Wildcats had little with which to challenge, held to a net of minus-16 yards rushing and yielding 596 total yards to MVC. The Vikings' first two drives were long and sustained, a combined 19 plays for 138 yards and both capped by 1-yard touchdown runs from senior Robert Holmes.
A pair of 25-yard passes by sophomore Chris White -- the first to freshman Tommi Pinta, a big novice tight end from Finland, and the second to sophomore Scott Humphrey -- set up the scores. On the first snap after getting a 14-0 lead, junior Corey Anderson intercepted a pass and returned it 54 yards.
Unfortunately, he was still 2 yards short of the goal line when the ball was stripped by the guy who threw it, sophomore quarterback Dustin Jacoby, but sophomore Maurice Peterson fell on the loose ball in the end zone for an MVC touchdown.
Valley scored on their first four possessions, a 35-yard reception by senior Javion Jones putting the Vikings in position for freshman Theron "Junior" Allen's 15-yard TD dash.
Even though a stiff wind at his back caused White to overthrow receivers at times, the short passes -- like a 25-yard swing toss to sophomore Bryan Blackley and a 30-yarder to Jones -- were working. Those completions led to Holmes' third 1-yard touchdown run -- and rest during the second half after doing so much heavy lifting lately due to the injury to junior David Allen.
"The running game was going early," according to Troth, "and Chris did a good job of distributing the ball."
Sometimes, though, vertical passes connected. That was the case on White's 44-yard fade which was caught over the shoulder and without breaking stride by Jones, hauling in his ninth touchdown catch of the season. The former HAAC indoor sprint champion is averaging a league-best 23.1 yards per reception.
A 56-yard kick return by junior Tyler Buckman gave Culver a scoring opportunity at the Viking 22-yard line, but the defense held -- freshman Adam Maher's sack on fourth down allowing the second-string offense to mount an eight-play, 64-yard drive ending on freshman Paul Wayne Thomas' 5-yard toss to Humphrey.
The Wildcats (0-10, 0-9 HAAC) scored their lone touchdown against Valley's reserve defense, Jacoby's 2-yard pass to sophomore Dustin Boyd finishing a 12-play, 80-yard series.
The Vikings mopped up in the fourth quarter with a 29-yard field goal by junior Adrian Trevino and a 3-yard touchdown run by Junior Allen, rushing for 101 yards on 13 carries. Freshman Ethan Leigh helped move the chains late in the game with 71 yards on nine runs.
"Our seniors wanted to go out with a win at home, and that kind of carried down to the rest of the team," Troth said.
Now it's on to the showdown at St. Charles for the Vikings (7-2, 7-2), who weren't hurt by MidAmerica's 42-41 double-overtime win over Baker, which trailed Valley in the rankings despite last week's 26-22 win over them and now has its second loss.
"We gotta win, point-blank," Durham declared. "We have to find a way to execute everything perfectly."