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Monday, May 2, 2016

Vikings finish alone atop HAAC

Monday, November 12, 2012

Junior Tyler Davis scans the field before beginning his 51-yard fumble return for the Vikings' only first-half touchdown.
(Chris Allen/Democrat-News)
The Missouri Valley College football team accomplished two of its three goals Saturday with a 25-6 home win over Central Methodist.

The second-ranked Vikings claimed their first undisputed Heart of America Conference title since 2006 and secured the home field advantage for the NAIA Championship Series.

Whether Valley achieved its third objective, to be playing at its best heading into the playoffs, is debatable.

"It didn't go like we wanted," admitted MVC head coach Paul Troth. "It wasn't our best effort, but it ended up like we wanted it."

Neither offense scored a touchdown in the first half, although both had chances. A 30-yard bootleg by sophomore Skylar Jameson and senior Burton Iosefa's 19-yard run got the Eagles to within striking distance midway through the opening period, but sophomore Ezequiel Rivera pushed a 33-yard field goal attempt wide to the right.

The Vikings got close later in the quarter when sophomore Bruce Reyes hooked up with freshman Mikquel Johnson twice for 24 yards, and also found senior Chris Owens and sophomore Jonathan Bird III for another 44 yards, before senior Bryan Plenge intercepted a pass near the goal line.

"We had planned to do a lot of outside runs and short passes, but they were taking that away," Reyes explained Valley's early offensive struggles. "In the second half, we made adjustments to just run downhill and set up all the bootlegs."

The Vikings opened the scoring on defense when senior Mike Hall jarred the ball loose from Iosefa, into the hands of junior Tyler Davis -- who raced 51 yards and hurdled the final defender into the end zone.

Methodist closed the gap with a pair of field goals in the final minute of the half. Iosefa's 20-yard run set up a 38-yard Rivera kick with 51 seconds left and a 13-yard punt into a 30 mile-per-hour wind by sophomore Jason Mayden and another 20-yard Iosefa dash led to Rivera's 34-yard boot with one tick remaining.

"We never got any continuity or rhythm going" on offense, Troth said. "Some of it was self-inflicted, some of it was ... give [CMU] credit. They haven't given up a lot of points to anybody."

The Vikings began clicking to start the third frame, Reyes connecting with freshman Jacoby Bellard for 14 yards and Owens for 18 -- after Mayden picked up a first down on a punt fake -- to reach the Methodist 30-yard line, where junior Chris Porter recovered a rare fumble by senior LaNorris Dukes.

However, Valley's defense dug in, allowing only two first downs and keeping the Eagles on their side of the field until the final possession of the game.

"We threw some different fronts at them, had a couple of different packages in," senior linebacker Phil Kraft noted. "Just switch it up on them."

The Vikings pulled away with touchdowns on their next two series. Senior Zavier Steward had a pair of 13-yard runs and Reyes kept for gains of 18 and 19 yards -- with Steward bulling in from a yard out for a 14-6 lead.

"A lot of people lately have been packing up the box and taking our run game away," Reyes said. "I'm a threat to run now, so it helps us out a lot."

Reyes jogged in from the 1-yard line to cap the next drive, the key play being his 58-yard bomb to Johnson.

"Mikquel's always there for that big play," Reyes said. "I happened to boot out, didn't have anybody and the one time we throw that back-side post there's nobody there. He just made that catch and took off."

For a ground-pounding team like Methodist (2-8, 2-7 HAAC), which passed for only 20 yards -- and was sacked four of the 12 times the quarterback dropped back, twice by sophomore Ty Phillips -- the deficit was too much to overcome. Senior Fabian Miramontes tacked on a 46-yard field late in the game for Valley.

Unlike a year ago, the Vikings (10-0, 9-0) don't have to share the league crown.

"It's an amazing feeling," Kraft said. "We've just been working on being 1-0 every game."

"They should feel good about being 10-0 at this point in the year," Troth remarked. "It's a tough conference and they've answered the challenge each time."

Valley will open the post-season Saturday against 15th-ranked KCAC champion Ottawa (Kan.). The Vikings lost their first-round home game a year ago, 28-14 to St. Francis (Ind.).

"We just have to focus and practice just as hard, maybe even harder," Reyes said about the team's playoff preparation. "Everybody's got to be mentally ready."

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