By Nathan Gerdts
Momentum is infectious these days in Missouri sports. The Cardinals and Royals are both off to outstanding starts in their respective postseason runs, the Mizzou Tigers football team reentered the Associated Press’s national rankings, and now the Missouri Valley College Vikings have won three in a row on the gridiron, smothering the Avila University Eagles 55-0 on Saturday afternoon at Gregg-Mitchell Field in a HAAC showdown and raising their NAIA national ranking to seventh.
“Avila came into the game averaging about 40 points a game, so to get a shutout was outstanding,” said MVC head coach Paul Troth. “There are still a lot of things we need to work on, but to roll up almost 600 yards [of offense] was a good effort by our kids, and I thought they played hard all game long.”
The Vikings jumped all over the Eagles in the opening four minutes of the game. Avila’s first possession resulted in a three-and-out, and after a bad snap on the punt attempt gave MVC the ball at the Eagles’ 34-yard line, quarterback Bruce Reyes connected on three straight passes, the last a 12-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jerrell Davis to give MVC an early 7-0 lead.
The Viking offense sputtered a bit over the next two possessions, throwing an interception each time. Defensive back Michael Barnes tried to jump start Valley with an interception of his own, but the offense fumbled the ball away deep in Avila territory to end a scoring threat.
“It was a bit gusty, and we had pass or two that floated on us and got tipped,” said Troth. “It’s about decision making in those situations, and taking care of the football, which we preach all the time. We just have to get better at it.”
Things turned around for the Vikings late in the first quarter, when five straight runs by running back Nijel Daw took MVC to the Avila six-yard line. Malachi Daniels punched in a score from the one a few plays later to extend the Vikings’ lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter.
Defensive end Ty Phillips stepped up to make a pair of big plays that helped widen the scoring gap. Phillips stopped an Avila drive cold with a third-down tackle in the backfield, leading to another scoring drive where Reyes hit four of five passes and Daniels found pay-dirt on a 12-yard scamper. Phillips then recovered a fumble the next possession at the Eagles’ 24-yard line, which set up a 45-yard field goal from Daniel Mouro to give Valley a 24-0 lead.
The Viking offense got the ball back for one last drive before the half at the Avila 24-yard line. Reyes conducted a clinical two-minute drill, completing six of seven passes and finding wide out Mikquel Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown to make 31-0 at halftime.
Neither team posed many scoring threats in the third quarter. Avila’s best chance for a score was thwarted on fourth down at the MVC 24-yard line when Phillips again brought the runner down for a loss. The only third quarter touchdown came with a minute to go, when Reyes found Davis again for a 41-yard bomb. The Vikings would put the icing on the cake with 17 fourth-quarter points, getting a 25-yard field goal from Mouro, a five-yard scoring run from Daw, and a 35-yard touchdown sprint by backup quarterback Darius Adams to make the final tally 55-0
Offensively for Valley, Reyes completed 20 of 28 passes for 262 yards along with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Davis caught six of those balls for 103 yards and two scores, the second 100-yard receiving performance of his career. Daw lead a balanced ground attack for MVC with 123 rushing yards and a TD on 12 carries, as the Vikings piled up 309 yards running the ball and 590 total yards of offense, the highest output for a MVC team since the 2007 NAIA playoffs quarterfinal win over Ohio Dominican.
On defense, linebacker Roy Hale led the Vikings with nine tackles. Defensive back Stephen Thayer had seven tackles, including 2.5 for
loss and a sack. Phillips collected six tackles, two for a loss, as well as a fumble recovery. The Viking defense surrendered just 137 total yards in their second shutout of the season, the most shutouts they have recorded since 2011.
The loss moves Avila to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in conference, while the Vikings’ third straight win after a season opening loss to Tabor College has them undefeated in the HAAC. Next up is a matchup with Mid-American Nazarene University in the inaugural NAIA Gridiron Challenge, taking place at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Troth knows his players are excited about the unique opportunity.
“Mid-American has traditionally been a rival of ours, and they have a new coaching staff, so it’s a lot of unknowns,” he said. “Getting to play at Arrowhead is going to be a neat experience for our kids, but we’ve told them we can’t get caught up in where we’re at, because we need to focus on our business on the field and pay attention to what’s going on there.”