Vikings fall short of upset
OZARK -- The Missouri Valley College football team was unable to prevent its fifth straight loss Saturday, but may have played its best game during that stretch.
The Vikings held ninth-ranked Evangel to six yards net rushing and seven first downs and controlled the ball for 35 minutes during a 23-17 Heart of America Conference South Division loss at Ozark.
Valley scored first following an interception by senior Matthew Sifuentes, its only takeaway of the game. A 26-yard bootleg by senior Jake Bridges set up senior Austin Johnson's 30-yard field goal in the final minute of the first quarter.
The Crusaders went ahead when senior Jansen Acklin returned a punt 45 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings responded with a six-play, 65-yard drive -- Bridges finding sophomore Wayne Grant with a 31-yard toss on third down and 11 yards to go and, after a pass interference penalty, a 2-yard sneak for a 10-7 halftime lead.
Evangel pulled ahead with a pair of third-quarter touchdowns, the first on a 13-play series which covered 77 yards to start the period. Although none of the first dozen plays went for more than 11 yards, the Crusaders converted twice on fourth down -- the second time with senior Cameron Hardesty's 28-yard pass to Acklin to pull in front, 14-10.
The next Evangel possession went more quickly, with Acklin catching a 69-yard pass to fourth snap.
The Vikings went out quickly on their first two possessions of the half, but put together a sustained drive of 93 yards to begin the final frame. Bridges picked up first downs on runs of 10 and 7 yards and hooked up with Grant four times for 44 yards. A 20-yard reception by junior Kahil Harshaw set up Bridges' 1-yard TD plunge to close the margin to four points with 9:44 left in the game.
Valley forced a pair of punts and got into Crusader territory with a 22-yard Harshaw run and Bridges' 26-yard keeper, only to have the ball knocked away by sophomore Athanie Leeviraphan and recovered by freshman Will Boswell at the EU 33.
Evangel chewed up 2:43 of the clock, punting the ball to the Vikings with 16 seconds left in the game at their own 11-yard line. After an incompletion, Bridges was sacked in the end zone for a safety with one second to go.
The Crusaders (8-1, 3-0 South) are among two teams remaining without a divisional loss, with a showdown set at Baker for the title should they win Saturday at Central Methodist.
Grant caught 13 passes for 126 yards, putting him second in the NAIA with 71 receptions for the season. Valley (3-6, 0-3) will play Saturday at MidAmerica Nazarene.
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