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Top 10 Showdown: Valley at MNU

Friday, September 7, 2012

The ninth-ranked Vikings seek to get their running game going behind junior Keith O'Neal during Saturday's HAAC tilt at No. 5 MidAmerica Nazarene.
(Chris Allen/Democrat-News)
It wasn't pretty, but the ninth-ranked Missouri Valley College football team survived its season opener on the road last week.

"We were in a battle," admitted head coach Paul Troth, whose Vikings came from behind to beat McPherson (Kan.), 27-13. "We got away with a win."

What may have been most unsettling is that Bulldogs quarterback Jake Snodgrass threw for 252 yards against what was the NAIA's No. 1 pass defense a year ago. While Troth admitted Snodgrass "had a great game," Valley won't have it any easier Saturday in its Heart of America Conference opener at No. 5 MidAmerica Nazarene -- which features all-conference senior Sean Ransburg at the controls.

"You hope you see the biggest improvement between Week 1 and Week 2," Troth said. "We've got a lot of things we need to work on."

The Pioneers also expect Ransburg to have shaken off the rust after throwing a pair of interceptions during their 34-14 win at Central Methodist. With all-HAAC senior wideouts Brett Houchen and Austin Conyers back in the fold, along with junior running back Greg Gates, the Vikings have their work cut out for them.

"They have a lot of weapons on offense," Troth admitted. "They're well-coached and know how to put your defense in tough situations."

Facing Snodgrass was tricky because McPherson had a new offense, but Troth thinks the Vikings "have a better handle" on what MidAmerica will do. That still doesn't make it easy to stop a program which was in the national Top-10 in total offense (421.1 yards per game) and scoring (38.0 points per game) a year ago and returns most of its key components.

Neither will familiarity with the Pioneers' 3-4 defensive scheme help much, since -- as Troth noted -- "They go from eight men back to rushing everybody."

"They don't give you a consistent look," he explained. "You're going to have to be on your toes."

It took a half for Valley to get its offense going against the Bulldogs, scoring 17 unanswered points after intermission to get the win. Playing at home for the first time, MidAmerica (1-0, 1-0 HAAC) is going to be stoked.

"When you play a good team at their place, they're going to be tough to beat," Troth said. "We're going to have to play better than we did last time we were over there."

That was in the second-to-last week of the 2010 regular season, when a 37-7 loss knocked the Vikings out of playoff contention. The good news is that Valley (1-0, 0-0) won't be playing in Pioneer Stadium, which had its grandstands condemned, but at the Olathe District Athletic Complex.

Although the Vikings won the early showdown of nationally-ranked clubs last year, 26-21, they finished behind MidAmerica in the final poll. The reality is that despite the clash of powerhouses, "nobody's going to be crowned anything after this game," Troth remarked.

"We've got to play everybody anyway," he asserted. "We've got to be ready to go."

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