(Chris Allen/Democrat-News) [Order this photo]
For that brief moment, Missouri Valley College players thought the quest to return to the NAIA Championship Series may have been over, although that is probably not the case. Still, after earlier falling to third-ranked Lindenwood in the final minute, another painful loss was inflicted by No. 10 MidAmerica Nazarene when junior Quenton Weygaerts' last-second 47-yard field goal dealt the Vikings' a 28-27 shock.
"I feel bad for everybody because they battled real hard," remarked MVC head coach Paul Troth. "It's frustrating."
The saving grace for Valley is that a second Heart of America Conference loss may not drop them from ninth in the poll to out of the top 16, meaning a playoff berth is still possible with a win Saturday at Avila in the regular season finale.
"We have to get back in the saddle and go," Troth told his team.
The Vikings held a 27-12 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but couldn't hang on. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Herl, who sat out the first half, led an eight-play, 79-yard Pioneer drive by completing five of six passes for 74 yards -- including 28-yard tosses to senior Jared Elmore and junior Ashford Johnson -- and scored on an 11-yard scramble with 7:39 left in the game.
Valley barely used two minutes on its final two possessions. Senior Geoff White broke up a third-down pass and MidAmerica got five completions and a 14-yard scramble on third down and nine yards to go from Herl, who hit Elmore on a 41-yard scoring bomb with 2:27 to go.
"They've got some very, very good receivers, tall kids who are fast," Troth said after watching Herl throw for 288 yards during the second half. "Not just one of them, but three or four."
Sophomore Gideon Israel broke up the potential game-tying two-point conversion pass.
The Vikings needed only a first down to run out the clock, but didn't get it when -- on third and 5 -- a reverse by junior Darrell Madry was stuffed for a 10-yard loss by junior Brady Croucher.
Officials added time to the clock three times during the Pioneers' final drive, Herl spiking the ball with one second left after connecting with sophomore Juan Redmon for 21 yards to the Valley 30. Weygaert's game-winning boot had plenty of distance and didn't drift close to a goal post.
Sophomore Mike Keese started for MidAmerica and was intercepted three times, the first one returned 15 yards for a touchdown by freshman Sam Jackson less than two minutes into the game. Keese's next attempt was also picked off by Jackson, but the Vikings were unable to capitalize.
Late in the first period, Elmore caught two passes for 29 yards to set up senior Eric Hronek's 20-yard field goal.
Valley junior quarterback Chris White found senior Scott Humphrey for 32 yards and sophomore Ethan Leigh ran three times for 25 yards to set up senior David Allen's 5-yard TD rumble.
Keese's 32-yard pass to Elmore led to a 2-yard touchdown run by Johnson to close the margin to 14-10, but senior Adrian Trevino kicked a 22-yard field goal with 41 seconds to go in the half after the Vikings' drive stalled at the MNU 5.
"We missed some opportunities," Troth admitted. "We had to settle for field goals instead of get touchdowns."
Valley's first 10 plays of the second half were handoffs to Allen, who had come back from what was believed to be a career-ending knee injury suffered last season to start this game after junior Sterling Hardin was nicked up two weeks earlier at Central Methodist. Allen rushed for 202 yards on 34 carries, both career highs.
"I thought we did a good job most of the game" of running the ball, Troth said. "We wanted to pound on them, go right at them."
White snuck the ball over from a yard out to make it 24-10, but then gave up two points the next time he touched the ball when he was dropped for a 6-yard loss into his own end zone.
An interception by sophomore DeAndre Smith and Madry's 37-yard catch, leading to Trevino's 35-yard field goal with 11:31 remaining in the game, seemed to give Valley some comfort -- before Herl led the Pioneers' three scoring drives.
MidAmerica Nazarene (9-1, 9-1 HAAC) has an open week, waiting only to find out who its first-round playoff opponent will be and where they play.
The Vikings (7-2, 7-2) now face a "must" win at Avila, and the chance of hosting in the post-season is probably gone.
"We'll see. That's two games we could have won just as easily was we lost," Troth said. "It's now out of our control."