The Vikings led Baker 31-3 in the fourth quarter, but gave up two touchdowns and was threatened a third time before holding on for a 31-17 Heart of America Conference victory.
"I didn't feel like the game was in doubt," remarked MVC head coach Paul Troth. "It got a little tighter at the end than we like."
The late slump gave those Wildcats, then ranked ninth, a little hope. Valley hopes to snuff it early Saturday when another bunch of Wildcats, from winless Culver-Stockton, visit Gregg-Mitchell Field.
"They'll play hard," Troth predicted. "They have nothing to lose."
The 'Cats certainly came out fired up on their home turf a year ago, staying even until Valley went on a 41-point run for a 48-14 victory. Although the Vikings have won the last seven meetings, none closer than 30 points, they can't afford to sleepwalk against Culver.
"This is one of those games you're not supposed to lose, but you've got to come out and play," Troth cautioned. "They're a better team than a year ago."
Until last week's 32-7 loss to Central Methodist, the Wildcats (0-4, 0-4 HAAC) have shown the ability to score -- with 61 points over the first three games. With only 45.2 rushing yards per game, they've mainly done it through the air -- junior quarterback Curtis Widener completing 41 of 99 attempts for 480 yards and three touchdowns.
"They've been throwing it around a little bit," Troth noted. "You've got to put some pressure on them early and not let them get into a rhythm."
The Vikings (4-0, 3-0) were able to go that against Baker, sophomore Ty Phillips earning HAAC "defensive player of the week" honors with two sacks among his seven tackles -- giving him four sacks and 6.5 tackles for losses this season.
Culver's defense only has 13 stops behind the line for the year, but despite giving up 400.0 yards per game can be a tricky unit for opponents.
"They try to keep you off-balance by showing you zone looks and then playing man-to-man out of that look," Troth said. "They try to keep everything in front of them."
Complicating matters for Valley is the status of sophomore quarterback Bruce Reyes, who suffered a concussion last week. Whether he'll be available Saturday is questionable, but senior Taylor Beasley has seen quality playing time throughout the season and has shown he can effectively run the offense.
"The next guy up's got to be ready," Troth said. "We're not going to change our expectations or what we do."
The only problem with expectations is that they can work against a team also, especially one as favored as will be the Vikings this week.
"It doesn't matter who you're playing, you prepare the same way," Troth said. "We focus on the process every week."