"Everybody's kind of upset by the way we didn't produce offensively" against the Bobcats, admitted MVC head coach Paul Troth. "It wasn't a good performance, so we have to bounce back."
The Vikings did so following the previous road game, a 35-19 loss at Benedictine, by pummeling Graceland, 78-0, for Homecoming. Valley (7-1, 6-1 HAAC) has out-scored opponents -- three of them nationally ranked -- on Gregg-Mitchell Field, 189-38, but the road margin has been less at 129-49.
"If you want to be really good, you have to play well either at home or on the road," Troth said. "That's the challenge. We have to play well no matter where it is."
The Crusaders (3-5, 3-4) are a more daunting foe than Graceland, although it's hard to know what to make of them. They opened league play by upsetting No. 23 Baker, 34-27, and briefly jumped into the NAIA rankings, but have lost three straight against second-tier competition -- including a 38-7 home setback to Central Methodist last week.
"That's what makes them really scary," Troth remarked. "They've shown they can play well. You hope they don't get started this week."
Evangel has had trouble scoring, ninth in the HAAC with 14.3 points per game, but have a solid running game (152.4 yards per game) and a promising quarterback in sophomore Andrew Brimhall -- who has completed 110 of 254 attempts for 1,224 and seven touchdowns.
"When they give the quarterback time, he can be pretty effective," Troth said. "We don't want him to be comfortable back there."
Like Valley, the Crusaders use a 3-4 defensive scheme and bring pressure with their linebackers, "much more than anybody we've played," according to Troth. Junior Jamail Randle among the league's leaders with five sacks and senior Sam Guillaume recording seven tackles for losses.
"They come right after you," Troth observed. That could make Evangel vulnerable to long runs, should the Vikings' talented tailbacks get into the second level.
"They're going to take some chances and are going to make some plays, but they've also given up big plays," Troth said. "They're a hard team to get into a rhythm against."
Only two games remain in the regular season, and both are fraught with risk for a Valley squad battling down the stretch in a three-way race with Benedictine and MidAmerica Nazarene -- with a spot in the NAIA playoffs in the balance.
"We're trying to win a conference championship," Troth declared. "If we do that, we're in the playoffs. If we drop a game, the conference championship is gone - and so may be our chance of playing on."