No. 10 Vikings head to CMU
The Missouri Valley College football team has been riding a crazy rollercoaster on the field and in the NAIA rankings since the season began.
What will the Vikings bring to Saturday's Heart of America Conference clash at Central Methodist?
"We've been a little bit spoiled these last few years. We've had more veterans than we have right now, especially on defense," MVC head coach Paul Troth explained the team's Jekyll-and-Hyde nature. "It's a thing here and a thing there; the differences are very, very small. We're still trying to figure out how to do it consistently."
Last week's 63-15 Homecoming win over Culver-Stockton was an example. After a scoreless first quarter, Valley went on a 42-3 run beginning in the second period -- when freshman Darius Adams was inserted at quarterback and threw a touchdown pass before senior Bruce Reyes returned to the field and tossed five of them.
"We're doing more of the zone-read stuff and we feel like Darius is our best runner at quarterback," Troth said about the pre-planned move of bringing in Adams.
What also helped the Vikings (4-2, 4-1 HAAC) was the 144 yards in punt returns by junior Mikquel Johnson, the league's "special teams player of the week." Although Valley leads the nation in punt return average (19.7 yards per attempt), Johnson's 77-yard sprint in the fourth quarter was its first touchdown.
"We've got some guys back there who can break it," Troth said. "Hopefully, we'll get a chance again."
The Eagles (4-3, 3-2) have shown steady progress under head coach Jody Ford, and had won three straight before stumbling last week with a 31-23 loss at Graceland.
"They beat MidAmerica [Nazarene] at home, and that raised everybody's eyebrows," Troth noted, his squad having lost to the Pioneers two weeks ago. "They took advantage of opportunities."
Valley, which is eighth in the league with a minus-three turnover ratio, doesn't want to give them those chances.
"When you're playing a good team, you can't turn the ball over," Troth said. "We can't give them a short field. We've got to make them earn it."
Methodist is also scoring points (26.3 per game) at a higher rate than in past years, senior quarterback Nic Stephens leading the HAAC with 224.7 passing yards per game.
"He's really calm back there," Troth observed. "He sees the field really well and he's been very accurate with his throws."
Although the Eagles trail only Valley in the loop in sacks per game, their pass defense is only seventh overall (228.4 ypg), relying on man-to-man coverage.
"Our match-ups on the perimeter are going to be key," Troth said. "We need to try to complete some big plays early on."
With a loss already on the books, the 10th-ranked Vikings can't afford another stumble during the three games leading up to the showdown with undefeated Baker in the regular season finale if they hope to secure their fifth straight conference title.
"We're chasing right now, we're not out front," Troth conceded. "To fall two games behind with three to play would make it unrealistic to think we can get back in it.
"We can't control anything other than how we prepare for this game," he said. "We need to find a way to win to keep us in the race."
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