By Nathan Gerdts
A venue like Arrowhead Stadium deserved a great game, and that is exactly what the Missouri Valley College Vikings and the Mid-American Nazarene University Pioneers gave the crowds that gathered in Kansas City on Saturday for the inaugural NAIA Gridiron Challenge. The Vikings had an early fourth quarter lead, but the Pioneers rallied to win the game 20-17.
“They always managed to be in the right place at the right time,” said MVC quarterback Bruce Reyes. “I also had some bad throws, and if I had made those, things might have been different, but it is what it is.”
Running back Malachi Daniels exploded for a 39-yard run on the Vikings’ opening play of the game, but the offense would stall from there, and Daniel Mouro’s 39-yard field goal attempt missed slightly to the right. After both teams traded punts, MNU strung together an 11-play, 74-yard drive that produced a 21-yard field goal to give the Pioneers a 3-0 lead.
Mid-American kept on rolling, forcing a quick Viking three-and-out and getting a 38-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 10-0. Reyes said the pressure from the Pioneers kept him on his toes all game.
“That was probably the best defensive line we faced all season, and they really kept me on the run,” he said.
The MVC offense woke up with 10 minutes to play before halftime when Mouro connected on a field goal from 35 yards away. After back-to-back quick stops from the defense, Valley finished off the half with a nine-play, 62-yard march highlighted by three straight carries for running back Nijel Daw for 29 yards and Daniels’s 10-yard touchdown run to tie the game at halftime.
The Viking defense continued to play opportunistic after punter Jason Mayden pinned MNU at its own 11-yard line early in the third quarter. Defensive back Byron Evans did a brilliant job of baiting the quarterback into a poor throw, then intercepted the pass for a 30-yard touchdown to give MVC its first lead at 17-10.
“That was a great pick by Byron, and he made a great read on the quarterback,” said MVC defensive end Ty Phillips. “We needed to keep making those plays all game long.”
The Vikings appeared to be seizing the momentum when they drove to the Pioneer 11-yard line on the next possession, but Reyes’s third-down pass was deflected and picked off with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. After another Valley drive stalled at the MNU 33-yard line with a missed fourth-down conversion, the Pioneers used their short passing game to move the ball down to the MVC 15, settling for a 32-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 17-13 early in the final frame. Yet another three-and-out by the MVC offense gave Mid-American the ball at near midfield, and their offense capitalized with a short, 5-play touchdown drive to retake the lead at 20-17.
“[The quarterback] did a good job of hitting his spots,” said Phillips. “He found the running backs for a few screens, and they ran some good passing plays.”
Phillips made a huge play with a sack and forced fumble on the next MNU possession, but the offense again turned the ball over on downs. The Vikings would get one last chance starting at their own 14-yard line. Runs of 16 yards by Daniels and 13 yards by Reyes moved the ball to midfield, but MVC would slow up and be faced with a fourth down. Reyes looked deep for wide receiver Jarrell Davis, but the pass was broken up during a shoving match between Davis and the MNU defender, giving the ball back to the Pioneers and ending the game.
“We were trying to get Jarrell behind the free safety,” said Reyes. “He beat the corner, but the ball hung a little more than I wanted it to. I felt like the [Mid-American] defender didn’t play the ball. I didn’t agree with the no-call.”
Reyes completed 15 of 34 pass attempts for 151 yards. Daniels led the Vikings with 97 yards rushing, who had 363 total yards of offense. Defensively, linebacker Roy Hale had a team-high nine tackler. Phillips and fellow defensive lineman Kyrton Kilgore each had a sack as MVC gave up 359 total yards.
The loss drops Missouri Valley College to 3-2 overall and 3-1 in the Heart of America Athletic Conference. Next up is a Homecoming date with Culver-Stockton at 2 p.m. next Saturday, which the Vikings know they need as a bounce-back performance.
“We can’t let this game dictate the rest of our season,” said Phillips. “We just need to stay focused, get back in the film room and on the practice field, and get back to work.”