Behind the 140-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance of senior Zavier Steward, the Heart of America Conference's "offensive player of the week," the third-ranked Vikings bumped off its third Top-25 opponent of the season with a convincing 42-26 Homecoming victory over No. 11 Benedictine.
"We've met the challenges so far," remarked MVC head coach Paul Troth. "These guys have done a real good job of staying focused. We have to continue to do that."
Getting emotionally charged to play the Ravens, who handed Valley its only regular season loss a year ago, wasn't difficult. It may be more problematic Saturday at Graceland, who the Vikings whipped 78-0 in their last meeting.
"You always worry about the inexperienced players looking at that score," Troth admitted. "They've got a much, much improved team."
In fact, after last week's 17-14 win at Central Methodist, the Yellowjackets (4-3, 3-3 HAAC) are already assured of having their best record in head coach Jeff Douglas' three seasons at the helm.
Graceland is 25th in rushing offense (182.4 yards per game) in the NAIA, with seniors Andrew Gayles and Marcus Griffin combining for 962 yards and six touchdowns. Junior quarterback Matt Fink has several fine receivers to target, with junior Raysean Brown being his favorite thus far with 24 receptions and three TDs.
"They want to be able to run the ball and throw off their play-action, much like us," Troth said. "They've improved at about every single position."
As a result, the 'Jackets have only allowed four sacks and thrown six interceptions. They're tied with Valley (6-0, 5-0) in the league with a plus-seven turnover margin, although have played one more contest.
"If it's a close game, turnovers will have a huge impact," Troth said.
On defense, Graceland is well-balanced. It's not a shut-down unit, but neither does it easily break -- sixth in the loop against both the run (179.7 yards per game) and pass (172.3).
"Their four down lineman hold the line and their inside linebackers clean up and make tackles," Troth said. "They give pressure now and then."
A key match-up will be between all-America senior tackle Stephon Kelly for Valley, which has allowed only five sacks, and 'Jackets senior defensive end Reggie Ramey -- with 13 tackles for loss, including 5.5 sacks.
"They scare me because they have good players and play hard," Troth said.
The Vikings have dominated their two HAAC road games this season, but haven't traveled in nearly a month and this will be the first time they're taking on a non-rated foe which can make its season with an upset.
"They've got nothing to lose and everything to gain," Troth forecast Graceland's approach. "They can just go out and play hard and not worry about it."