Freshman Kalokwere Okot scored two goals during the final six minutes Saturday as 22nd-ranked University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma upset the No. 9 Vikings, 2-0.
"We played well in the first half," noted MVC head coach Vladimir Simic. However, facing stiff northerly breeze after intermission, "the wind killed us in the second half. We couldn't kick the ball 20 yards."
Valley had eight shots on goal during the opening 45 minutes, but freshman goalkeeper Bryan Byars stopped them all. Some were easy saves, booted right at him, and he was fortunate at times -- such as when sophomore Nicholas Alexander dribbled into the box and fired a shot which missed the left goal post by less than a yard in the seventh minute.
However, Byars also kept the match tied when he dove to his right to smother a 12-yard blast from sophomore Carlos Fernandez Suarez in the 16th minute.
"We had chances," Simic admitted. "We just couldn't put it in."
With under 20 minutes left in the first period, the Vikings lost the services of senior Eduardo Da Silva, whose 17 goals on the season topped the team and was 10th-best in the nation. He would return briefly in the second half before going down again for the final 15 minutes of the match.
"That killed us," Simic said. "As soon as he stepped out, we dropped."
The Drovers had their best opportunity in the 27th minute, with sophomores Perry Sansford and Nicholas Alberto putting attempts within the frame, but sophomore Andre Oliveira knocked away the first try and senior Andrew Spratt blocked the rebound bid.
That was welcome help for senior 'keeper Adria Borras, who was shaken up on at least three occasions due to run-ins with USAO attackers.
During the second half, Valley spent most of the time on its own end, managing only two shots -- neither giving Byars a serious problem -- while the Drovers unleashed 10 attempts.
"The long balls killed us," Simic said. "We were defending, defending."
Valley's attack suffered another setback when sophomore Alberto Linan Gomez, second on the team with nine goals with season, was carried off the pitch.
As the match wound on, USAO got more cracks at the net. Senior Niall Crick got to a loose ball after a free kick and sent an open 13-yarder wide to the left. Spratt turned aside senior Chris Lee's long direct kick.
The Vikings had one last chance to take the lead with 7:10 remaining, Alexander getting a run up the ride sideline and crossing to freshman Seyed Amadodin, who was tied up on an attempted header.
The Drovers knotted matters when Okot sent a rocket from the top of the box beyond Borras' reach to his right and into the twine with 5:20 left.
The insurance goal came with 58 seconds to go, Criall crossing to Okot to the far side of the crease to stuff into the open side of the net.
The victory sent USAO (17-4) to the national tourney at Orange Beach, Ala., having reached the quarterfinals a year ago. The Drovers will meet No. 8 Azusa Pacific (Calif.), a 4-1 winner over California State-San Marcos, in the Round of 16.
Valley (14-3-1), which won 14 of its first 15 matches, finished the season with back-to-back losses -- including a 1-0 semifinal setback against MidAmerica Nazarene 10 days earlier in the HAAC Tournament. Nonetheless, the Vikings' first league title was a reason to look fondly on the campaign.
"It's a great accomplishment for Missouri Valley College," Simic declared. "With a little more luck, we could have stepped one more round."