For a player whose promising career coming out of suburban Minneapolis was marred by injuries during stints at two junior colleges and a Division II school, a strong bond had developed with his trainer. The relationship with a mentor Steward considered a "father figure" came to an end Wednesday with the death of In The Tank Training founder Kyhaunn Woods, 38, after a year-long battle with brain cancer.
"This game was for him," Steward declared following his 140-yard rushing performance. "I've been through a lot, so it means a lot to come out here my last year."
For the rest of the third-ranked Vikings, the win was less bittersweet. They took a 29-point lead into the fourth quarter to remain unbeaten.
"We got a couple of big momentum plays in the first half that I think really helped us," noted MVC head coach Paul Troth. "If we hadn't have gotten those, I think it would have been a much harder day."
The Ravens struck first, capping the game's opening drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass from senior Bill Noonan to senior Geoff Akpom. However, senior LaQuentin Black's 68-yard kick return to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by senior LaNorris Dukes quickly got the Vikings even.
Neither team's offense was able to do much the rest of the quarter, but then while thunder rumbled from the sky lightning struck on the field.
Sophomore Bruce Reyes hit freshman Seth Martinko on a 74-yard bomb to put the Vikings in front and Benedictine fumbled the ensuing kickoff, with sophomore Michael Barnes recovering in the end zone for a two-touchdown lead.
"We needed to get on top of them and change what they do," Troth said. "College football's a lot of momentum."
With 1:42 left in the first half, Steward broke off an 89-yard TD run, thanks to a block by sophomore center Roy Wolfrum.
"He went down, cut his man, and the receivers all blocked downfield," Steward explained. "I just had to do what I do."
The Vikings' defense made a quick stop, but Black fumbled an attempted fair catch into the arms of senior Dylan Meisenheimer. Noonan hit junior Jerrin Walton for a 30-yard scoring strike eight seconds later to close the margin to 28-13 at the break.
Valley answered to begin the second half, Steward running for 14 yards and catching a 19-yard pass to set up Reyes' 27-yard touchdown toss to Martinko.
The Ravens got a 43-yard return from senior Colton Johnston, but were stopped on downs. After being pinned down in its own end, Benedictine had a punt blocked by sophomore Cameron Hope and sophomore Dominique McDonald scooped up the ball -- advancing to the 2-yard line, from where Dukes punched it in.
An interception by junior Josh Montgomery early in the fourth quarter gave the Ravens another chance, but on second down and goal from the Valley 5 they were thwarted by junior Tyler Davis' pick.
"It was kind of wet and the ball slipped out of [the quarterback's] hands," he said. "I was there to make the play."
Benedictine (5-2, 3-2 HAAC) benefited from a couple of holding penalties by Viking reserves which led the way to a 13-yard touchdown pass from Walton to Akpom and a shanked punt resulted in senior Cameron Fore's 2-yard TD run, but Valley recovered an on-side kick attempt and chewed up the game's final three minutes.
"It got sloppy at the end," Troth admitted, recalling how Baker tightened the contest three weeks earlier after trailing 31-3 heading into the final period. "It's unfortunate, but we'll work on it. It gives us something to talk to the kids about."
Finishing strong is about the only complaint one could have with the Vikings (6-0, 5-0), the league's only remaining unbeaten contender. They'll strap it up Saturday at Graceland, which has won four of its last six games.
"We just have to make sure we do the same preparation," Troth said. "We're going to have to make sure we're ready."