The Vikings are ranked third in the NAIA and have had a bye week to heal up. Or will it be to lose their edge?
"I'll tell you after Saturday," remarked MVC head coach Paul Troth about the Homecoming contest. "When you get in a routine and take two weeks off, it seems like forever."
It didn't do Valley any good last year, when they came off their open date and suffered their only regular-season loss at Benedictine, 35-19 -- a game in which they turned the ball over five times.
"We did some things differently this bye week," Troth said. "I think our guys have responded well to it."
The 12th-ranked Ravens (5-1, 3-1) suffered their first loss two weeks ago to Heart of America Conference foe Evangel, 54-44, giving up 428 passing yards after having allowed their previous three opponents to score 13 points.
"Other than that, they haven't given up too many points other than the first game of the year," Troth noted. "They've always been fundamentally sound."
The Vikings (5-0, 4-0) will have sophomore quarterback Bruce Reyes, who has hurt two games ago at Baker, back in the line-up. However, he was picked off four times last year against Benedictine, which keeps opponents off-balance with its defensive schemes.
"They pick their times to bring pressure and play man" in the secondary, Troth explained. "They get off their blocks very well."
It's not easy for an attack-style defensive unit like Valley's to scout the Ravens' read-and-react approach in practice. Nor can the Vikings' defense easily adjust to what Benedictine has on the offensive side -- especially its tall wide receivers, such as 6-foot-5 senior Geoff Akpom and 6-4 senior Alex Boyd.
Senior Bill Noonan leads the nation in passing efficiency (189.6), having completed 84 of 126 attempts for 1,218 yards and 17 touchdowns -- with only three interceptions.
"He's a real smart quarterback, he has a good arm and he's got some good receivers," Troth said. "This is as good a Benedictine team as they've had in a long time, and their offensive is more productive this year."
The Ravens ended a seven-year playoff drought last season, and snapped a five-game losing streak in their series against Valley.
"Everybody remembers, of course," Troth observed about the Vikings' bad day in Atchison, Kan. "We were in the same boat last year, and we didn't play very well."
Valley doesn't want a repeat of that disaster, or to have to share the conference crown with a team it beat decisively to open the HAAC campaign.
"We open the second half against a very good team," Troth emphasized. "If we win, we still have control. If we don't, our fate could be in others' hands."