A pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns gave the unbeaten Vikings a 35-21 decision and elevated them to No. 2 in the NAIA poll -- thanks to a loss by top-ranked Marian (Ind.) -- the highest the program has climbed since spending two weeks at No. 1 in 1990.
"The guys kept their composure," head coach Paul Troth noted about how his team responded to being two scores down for the first time this season. "It was real good to see."
Although Troth admitted "nobody wants to be behind," he also conceded that "ultimately, we got the win, and that's the good thing." After all, in the upcoming NAIA Championship Series, the Vikings (9-0, 8-0 HAAC) will likely be pushed again.
They may even be in for a scrap Saturday during the regular season finale against visiting Central Methodist (2-7, 2-6), a loss reducing the prospect for home games during the playoffs. Further, it would damage Troth's goal "to build some momentum."
"I want the guys to feel good about themselves and confident," he said.
The Eagles could be a handful for Valley, which typically relies on its defense making an opponent one-dimensional. Central Methodist already is: while it has the top-ranked run offense (263.4 yards per game) in the league, its passing attack (66.0) is anemic.
"People know they're going to run," Troth said. "They want to control the clock and shorten the game."
The Eagles have been effective in that regard, rushing for at least 240 yards in all but two games and allowing only 26.1 points per game, fourth-best in the HAAC.
Sophomore Skyler Jameson, a converted running back, has taken over as quarterback in the flexbone and has a pair of good mates behind him in seniors Cleave Perryman (593 yards) at fullback and Burton Iosefa (732) at halfback. All three average over five yards per carry, although now will be pitted against the fifth-ranked defense (248.7) in the NAIA.
"It's option football, so you have to be disciplined and play good assignment football," Troth explained. "We'd like to keep their offense off the field."
Methodist also boasts the league's third-best defense (327.8), about equally as effective against the run and pass. The Eagles' philosophy is similar to Troth's: "Play good defense and run the ball."
"They give you a lot of different looks: odd front, even front, mix up their coverages, blitzes," Troth described the CMU approach. "They're sound with what they do and keep offenses off-balance."
It's especially helpful that Methodist can pressure the pocket with its defensive line, senior end Trevor Robinson seventh in the nation with eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for losses. When they play two-deep safeties, Troth said the Eagles "make it difficult to throw the ball."
Methodist gave the Vikings a hard time last year before dropping a 33-7 decision, and has typically done so despite losing the last seven games of the series.
"They're not playing for anything but pride, but they can do something no other conference team has done," Troth said. "They're going to come out with emotion."
Although it's already clinched a share of the league title, Valley also has three objectives.
"We want to win the conference outright" -- not done by the Vikings since 2006 -- "we want to play at home" in the post-season and "we'd like to see this as a stepping stone and are making progress," according to Troth. "The only thing we can do to assure that happens is to win Saturday."