Despite five turnovers and some ill-times penalties, the Vikings won with relative ease over No. 15 Ottawa (Kan.), 56-21.
"Everybody came with the mindset to go hard," remarked senior LaNorris Dukes, named "offensive player of the game" after rushing for 105 yards and four touchdowns. "It was win or go home."
It was a ragged start for both teams. The Braves went three-and-out on their first series, but the punt was fumbled by junior Tyler Davis -- who immediately intercepted senior Shane Gimzo's pass.
"After you make a play like that, you just have to forget," Davis said. "The next play is the next play."
However, the Vikings' first crack at the end zone was picked off by senior Logan Schultz, but Ottawa's offense was stopped and a punt snap sailed over the head of junior Travis Adamson for a safety. On the ensuring kickoff, senior LaQuentin Black zipped through the middle of the coverage 79 yards for a touchdown.
Late in the first quarter, Reyes connected twice each with freshmen Seth Martinko and Mikquel Johnson for a combined 54 yards to set up Dukes' 10-yard TD run.
Black fumbled a punt which the Braves recovered at the Valley 19-yard line, with junior Jon Hittiger taking a bubble screen the distance on the first play to reduce the Braves' deficit to 15-7.
Ottawa had another chance to score with five minutes remaining in the half, but sophomore Ty Phillips blocked sophomore Jeff Stamp's 49-yard field goal attempt.
A 40-yard run by senior Zavier Steward was followed by a 5-yard touchdown rumble by Dukes, the Vikings' designated finisher with 15 TDs.
"I got the role of grinding it out, getting tough yards," Dukes said. "I just run hard."
Although Davis was named the game's top defensive player with two picks, Phillips dominated with three sacks -- one of which preceded senior Mike Hall's interception near midfield with under two minutes left in the second period.
Reyes found Martinko for 16 yards and junior Alex Benson for 33 before scoring on a 5-yard bootleg for a 30-7 halftime lead.
"I think that was a big thing for momentum going in," observed MVC head coach Paul Troth. "It kind of took some wind out of their sails."
Ottawa got a brief gust behind its back with the second of Schultz' three interceptions 43 seconds into the second half, leading to Hilliger's 26-yard touchdown catch.
Valley answered with a 10-play, 92-yard drive. Other than sophomore Marcus Brinkley's 35-yard pass to junior Rahfee McClee on a fake punt, most of the series was on the ground -- including Dukes' 17-yard TD run.
"Our O-line just came off the ball," Dukes said about the Vikings' 229-yard rushing performance. "Once they come off and block hard, we just run hard behind them and find a hole."
A short punt later in the third quarter gave the Braves (8-3) another opportunity to draw closer, but junior Andrew Huhman came up with a fourth-down sack.
Early in the final frame, Hall tipped a pass which McClee caught and returned to the OU 19-yard line. Junior Garren Gordon caught a 17-yard pass and Dukes bulled in from a yard out.
Valley widened the gap to 49-14 on senior Taylor Beasley's 52-yard bomb to Martinko.
Two personal fouls and a missed tackle on Hilliger's 22-yard catch and run led to a 3-yard Gimzo keeper with under four minutes to go, but Viking junior Keith O'Neal gained 46 yards on five carries -- the last for 18 yards to cap the scoring with 1:39 left.
"I'm not real happy with our execution, our turnovers," Troth admitted. "Fortunately we got away with it today."
Top-ranked Georgetown (Ky.) didn't survive its mistakes, including five fumbles, and fell to No. 18 Bethel (Tenn.), 45-44. That leaves Valley (11-0) as the highest seed in the playoffs, with a quarterfinal contest Saturday at Gregg-Mitchell Field against the upset-minded Wildcats.
"You get to this point and you want to take a win no matter how you get it," Troth said. "We got fortunate [today], but we have to make sure we're better [this] week."