Due to their overall superiority in talent and physicality, the second-ranked Vikings overcame a season-high five turnovers last week for a 56-21 victory over No. 15 Ottawa (Kan.) in the first round of the NAIA Championship Series.
"That made it really sloppy. That was unfortunate," remarked MVC head coach Paul Troth, whose team hosts No. 18 Bethel (Tenn.) in the quarterfinals Saturday. "That's something we can't do this week."
Just ask top-ranked Georgetown (Ky.). Having beaten Bethel by a 63-21 margin earlier in the season, the Tigers fumbled away the ball six times in the playoff rematch to allow the underdogs to remain in contention. After taking the lead with 26 seconds remaining, they made the mistake of kicking deep to talented junior Jahron Reynolds, whose 92-yard return gave the Wildcats a 45-44 upset.
"He's not very big, but he is fast," Troth noted about the 5-foot-6, 145-pound wideout. "We've got to have good kick coverage."
Troth sees a lot of his team in Mid-South West Conference champion Bethel.
"Philosophically they're a lot like us: they want to run the ball and are physical," he explained. "It's what you expect in the playoffs."
Statistically, the 'Cats (9-3) aren't impressive on defense --compared to Valley's NAIA-leading unit (242.1 yards per game). Bethel allows 390.2 yards and 30.3 points per game, although the latter figure is skewed by three games in which they have given up a combined 155 points.
"Teams have moved the ball in the middle of the field" against the Wildcats, Troth noted. "When you get close, it's tougher to do anything."
Although a base 3-4 defense, Bethel deploys four-man fronts -- especially against run-oriented, two-back opponents, which describes Valley's offense. It's a bend-but-don't-break approach.
"They're more read and react," Troth said. "They don't stunt much and play mostly zone."
The Wildcats are 12th in the nation in rushing offense (222.8 ypg), mainly behind quick senior Cordarious Mann -- who is ranked 17th with 1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, senior quarterback Wilson Masoud has a good arm, having completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 17 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
"The quarterback does a really good job with his fakes" on play-action, Troth observed. Still, "they want to run the ball between the tackles."
Bethel has big-play potential, though: five receivers have caught passes of 40 or more yards and the top-two running backs -- Mann and freshman Raquis Hale -- have 60-yard gains to their credit.
Considering that for the season Bethel has a plus-seven turnover advantage and the Vikings were the most penalized team (95) in the Heart of America Conference, Troth considers those two elements key.
"We've got to make sure we take care of the ball," he said, "and we need to generate some turnovers."
Unbeaten, whether performing crisply or not, Valley (11-0) isn't short on swagger.
"They know if they play well, they have a chance to beat anybody," Troth remarked. "But we can't be inconsistent and win at this point in the year.
"It's not enough to be confident," he added. "You have to execute and do things right."