PERU, Neb. -- The Missouri Valley College football team slugged its way through a tough Heart of America Conference road game Saturday, getting by Peru State, 13-0.
The seventh-ranked Vikings were unable to find any offensive continuity, but the defense came up with its second shutout in a row and third of the season.
"Our defense played extremely well," remarked MVC head coach Paul Troth. The offense "put them in a tough spot, but they made a very good goal-line stand."
That came in the fourth quarter, after Valley already had a two-touchdown lead. The Vikings scored on their first possession of the game, overcoming a major penalty with an 11-yard run by freshman Nijel Daw and 12-yard keeper from sophomore quarterback Lorenzo Dennard.
Dennard connected with freshman Chris Smith on a 41-yard touchdown strike. It was the first start since the second week of the season for Dennard. He had been replaced by true freshman Bruce Reyes, who was banged up and held out as a precautionary measure.
"'Zo got all the reps all week," Troth said. "It's a little different, but we tried to adjust and play to his strengths."
Unfortunately, the Vikings went three and out on their next two series and didn't move the ball more than 30 yards on a drive the rest of the half.
"We didn't execute very well," Troth admitted. "We never found a rhythm."
Valley put together a 10-play, 70-yard charge on its second series after intermission, junior LaNorris Dukes gaining 16 yards on a carry and senior Gary Taylor picking up 42 yards on a reverse to get inside the Bobcats' 10-yard line.
The Vikings had two cracks at the end zone from a yard away, handing off both times to the powerful Dukes, but sophomore Curtis Larson was one of three Peru State defenders to stop him the first try and then made a solo tackle short of the goal line on fourth down.
"Give them credit," Troth said about the Bobcats' heretofore unimpressive defense. "They had a good game plan and did some things we hadn't seen before."
Sophomore Tyler Davis intercepted a pass at the PSU 37-yard line, but one of junior Preston Bruss' two sacks pushed Valley out of scoring range.
Davis then forced a fumble recovered by junior Phil Kraft at the Peru State 30, this time the Vikings capitalizing on Dennard's 30-yard pass to Taylor.
The Bobcats (2-6, 2-5 HAAC) got possession in Valley territory midway through the final frame, freshman Tyler Francis finding senior Quentin Edelman for 21 yards and sophomore Joel Woodhead for 15 for first and goal at the MVC 3.
Francis' first pass fell incomplete, juniors Tripp Thomas and Nick Pula stopped a runner for no gain, senior Wayne Williams held sophomore Lance Steffen a yard out of the end zone on a flat pass and senior Trey Kampeter sacked Francis on fourth down with 3:31 left to play.
The Vikings' offense picked up three first downs to run out the clock.
Daw and Dukes combined for 135 rushing yards for Valley (7-1, 6-1), which returns home Saturday to face Evangel while still in a three-way tie atop the league standings with Benedictine and MidAmerica Nazarene.
"The good thing is that we can play a not-so-great game and still win," Troth said. "We'll have to get to work on execution and finding a way to beat Evangel."