The seventh-ranked Vikings close out the regular season Saturday at Central Methodist, with the Heart of America Conference championship and a spot in the NAIA playoffs still in their grasp.
"It comes down to this game," Troth declared. "If we lose ... any chance of playing on will be very slim."
Valley is coming off a 52-24 home win over Evangel which proved more of a struggle than it would have liked, but Troth doesn't believe the troubles will carry over.
"Evangel is difficult to prepare for because they do so many different things," Troth noted. "We made a couple of assignment mistakes, but we corrected those."
The Eagles will be no less problematic an opponent. This isn't the usual feeble Central Methodist squad, having found life with a Wing-T offense which has boosted it to seventh in the national rankings for rushing (233.1 yards per game).
"You watch their offense now and at the beginning of the year, and it's completely different," Troth said. "They're executing very well right now."
That was apparent last week when the Eagles (5-4, 5-3 HAAC) went to NCAA Division I FCS member Southeast Missouri State and battled the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions well into the second half before dropping a 55-44 decision. Methodist racked up 436 yards in total offense, 337 on the ground, and trailed the Redhawks by only a touchdown heading into the fourth quarter.
The Eagles run the option out of it only sparingly, but the threat of a pitch for a big play is ever present.
"You've got to be real good on assignments," Troth said. "Nobody else is running it, so your kids aren't used to working on it."
Making the system go for Methodist is junior quarterback Bryant Jackson, a third-year starter. Although he had attempted only 98 passes in eight league games, Jackson can hurt defenses with both his arm and legs.
"He's gotten bigger plays in the passing game now because you're presented with different problems in the run game," Troth explained.
The upshot is that the Eagles have gone from being ninth in the league in scoring (16.1 points per game) a year ago to fifth (24.4) this season. With the loop's third-best scoring defense (16.3), it's no wonder they have run off three straight HAAC wins -- by a combined 113-44 margin.
"They've been solid defensively all year long," Troth said. "They mix up a combination of pressure and give you several different looks."
Methodist can put heat on the pocket, ranking fourth in the NAIA with 31 sacks, which is why they also have one of the nation's top pass defenses (138.8 ypg). Junior Trevor Robinson has nine sacks and senior Travis McDowell has intercepted six passes.
That makes it a challenge for the Vikings (8-1, 7-1) to meet their top objective for the game -- "keeping their offense on the sidelines," according to Troth.
"We have to move the chains, get first downs and be consistent," he said. "We've done that at times, and at other times haven't."
One would think a team which has spent the entire season in the Top 10 wouldn't be at risk to miss the post-season with a second loss. If that occurs Troth sees Valley as "at best a bubble team, most likely out."
"It depends on what happens, but that's stuff we can't control," he remarked. "Our focus is to go out and play as well as possibly can."