Vikings hoping to recover from win

Friday, October 23, 2015
The Vikings will try to unleash junior Jakari Johnson, No. 7 in the NAIA with 1,096 all-purpose yards, on Avila's struggling defense. (Chris Allen/Democrat-News)

There was a clear theme to practice this week for the Missouri Valley College football team.

"Keeping the ball off the ground," laughed head coach Paul Troth.

While the statement was made in jest, it's too close to the truth to be dismissed. The Vikings had four fumbles and three interceptions, which -- along with 15 penalties -- nearly cost them the win during a 35-33 decision over Central Methodist in last week's HAAC South Division opener.

"We did everything we could to lose the game," Troth conceded. Having fallen to a minus-2.0 per-game turnover margin, the worst in the NAIA, "we're trying to get better and more efficient on offense."

Valley's opponent Saturday at Gregg-Mitchell Field can also sing the turnover blues. Avila (1-6, 0-1 South) isn't far behind the Vikings in coughing up the rock, at an average of minus-1.60 clip per game -- although none of its giveaways came during last week's 42-14 loss to fourth-ranked Baker.

The two teams are similar in another way.

"They're moving the ball," Troth noted, "but don't have a whole lot to show for it."

Valley leads the league with 503.9 yards per game on offense, but is fifth in scoring (34.4 points per game). The Eagles are eighth in scoring (23.1) and sixth in yardage (397.6).

Avila played without its starting quarterback against the Wildcats, junior Calvin Jacobson throwing for 214.3 yards per game -- fourth best in the HAAC. His favorite receiver is senior Robert Johnson, second in the loop with 38 catches.

Likewise, senior Alyn Jackson, a 220-pound running back, has netted 4.5 yards per carry while accumulating 377 yards.

"They've got some skill players who are really good," Troth said. Bottom line: "We have to get [the defense] off the field. We can't give them extra possessions."

The Vikings (4-3, 1-0) shouldn't have a problem keeping the chains moving against an Avila defense which ranks near the bottom of the league (461.7 ypg). Turning yards into points is of greater concern, since Valley has only converted 20 of 38 red-zone possessions into touchdowns and have missed eight of 10 field-goal attempts.

It all adds up to tremendous uncertainty, especially for a team that cannot afford another loss if it's to return to the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. As Troth observed, "the games get progressively tougher the rest of the way."

"Just play better" is the immediate goal, Troth said. "Play more consistently and not make the same mistakes. Show some improvement over a week ago."

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