KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A chance to either solidify or reclaim a foothold on the Heart of America Athletic Conference championship is on the line this Saturday, October 13 when 3rd-ranked Missouri Valley hosts #12 Benedictine in the HAAC Game of the Week.
The Matchup: #12 Benedictine (5-1, 3-1 HAAC) vs. #3 Missouri Valley (5-0, 4-0 HAAC), Gregg-Mitchell Field, Marshall, Mo., 2:00 p.m.
All-Time Series: Benedictine leads, 16-15-1
Last Season: Benedictine 35, Missouri Valley 19 (Oct. 15, 2011 - Atchison, Kan.)
Last Time Out: Benedictine 21, Central Methodist 14 (Oct. 6); Missouri Valley 47, Culver-Stockton 7 (Sept. 29)
About the Ravens: With the knowledge that the Missouri Valley coaching staff was watching the game, Benedictine went with a simplified game plan that was just enough to get by Central Methodist last week. The Ravens ran just 50 offensive plays and were held to a season-low 143 yards on the ground while Central Methodist had the ball for almost 37:00. Cameron Fore had another strong game on the ground with 124 yards on 14 carries while scoring once as well as catching a 2-yard TD pass from Bill Noonan. The Ravens' signal caller is completing 67 percent of his passes and thrown just three interceptions and will need to keep his team away from any giveaways that a ball-hawking Vikings' defense could turn into quick points. The offense has been a consistent presence this season, but the defense took its lumps two weeks ago against Evangel and will face an improved and balanced Missouri Valley offense that is 2nd in the HAAC in scoring (40.2) and 3rd in total offense (408.2). The pressure will be on the veterans on the Benedictine defense to have the team prepared, led by leading tackler Ashton Stephens (40 tackles, 2 INTs) and Jordan Ancar (29 tackles, 5.5 for loss).
About the Vikings: The defending conference co-champions have been almost flawless since a nail-biting opening week win at McPherson. The Vikings haven't allowed more than 17 points in any game and a touchdown or less in three of four conference contests. It would be a surprise if the Vikings didn't use the bye week to its full potential, preparing for a talented Benedictine team by getting healthy and coming up with some new wrinkles on both sides of the ball. Bruce Reyes missed most of the game against Baker and all of the Culver-Stockton contest with an injury, but looks to be restored to the starting spot following almost three weeks to recover. He has completed 67 percent of his passes and thrown for 592 yards and four TDs. Taylor Beasley was also effective off the bench with four TDs and 482 yards through the air. The ground game has plenty of weapons, led by LaNorris Dukes and Zavier Steward, while seven different receivers have at least five receptions. Tyler Davis deserves the headlines he gets on defense with 26 tackles and three interceptions, but there are playmakers all over the field with six different players claiming at least one INT and Ty Phillips leading the pass rush with six sacks.
Extra Points: The two teams are either one-two or two of the top three in the conference in scoring offense, total offense, passing offense, pass efficiency, turnover margin, 4th down conversions, scoring defense, pass defense efficiency, kickoff returns average and punt returns average ... Neither team has missed an extra point this season, combining to hit all 59 of their attempts ... Bill Noonan matched a school record with five touchdown passes against Evangel and is four shy of matching the single-season school record of 21 ... The Vikings had 15 tackles for loss two weeks ago against Culver-Stockton, the most by any HAAC team in a single game this season.
Week Eight Previews
Culver-Stockton (0-6, 0-6 HAAC) at Avila (1-5, 0-4 HAAC), Zarda Athletic Complex, Kansas City, Mo., 1:00 p.m.
All-Time Series: Avila leads, 9-2
Last Season: Avila 27, Culver-Stockton 13 (Oct. 15, 2011 - Canton, Mo.)
Last Time Out: MNU 63, Culver-Stockton 3; Baker 42, Avila 13
About the Wildcats: Culver-Stockton has not scored more than a touchdown over the past three games and will be hoping to break through that barrier this week against a defense that allows 37.2 points and 449.0 yards per game. The Wildcats have struggled to establish a ground attack and have tallied just 281 net yards rushing, which ranks 79th out of 80 teams in the NAIA. The offense has also been in the red zone 15 times with seven touchdowns while the opposition has 18 touchdowns on 30 red zone opportunities. Junior Curtis Widener continues to sit atop the depth chart at quarterback, but at least three players have seen time at the position in four of the six games. Rico Ragsdale has been the top target with 16 catches for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Bobby Nelessen continues to lead the defensive effort, averaging nine tackles per game, but the group has allowed 46.8 points per game and at least 45 points in four contests. The unit has forced an average of 2.5 turnovers per game and at least three in four games.
About the Eagles: Avila faced a gauntlet over a four-week period, facing Missouri Valley, MidAmerica Nazarene and Baker during that stretch and losing all three games. However, the Eagles did pick up a non-conference win over Bethany to pick up their first win of the season. Avila has dominated the series with Culver-Stockton since joining the conference with nine wins in 11 tries and has captured the last six contests. The Eagles lead the conference in first downs with an average of almost 24 per game, so moving the ball hasn't been an issue. A total of 15 turnovers has derailed too many drives and limited the scoring to 20.0 points per game. Da'Veion Sullivan leads the conference in receiving with 37 catches and is also a threat on special teams. The defense are 9th among the 10 conference teams in most statistical categories, numbers damaged by a total of just three sacks in six games. David Gamboa leads the group with 40 tackles (25 solo) while Joe Scott has three interceptions.
Graceland (3-3, 2-2 HAAC) at Central Methodist (2-4, 2-3 HAAC), Davis Field, Fayette, Mo., 1:00 p.m.
All-Time Series: Graceland leads, 30-18-1
Last Season: Central Methodist 41, Graceland 27 (Oct. 15, 2011 - Lamoni, Iowa)
Last Time Out: Evangel 35, Graceland 14; Benedictine 21, Central Methodist 14
About the Yellowjackets: It's been an up-and-down ride for Graceland throughout this season, splitting all six games and alternating betweens wins and losses in all four conference games thus far. The Yellowjackets played Evangel close last week until a long touchdown run on the first play after a scoring drive eliminated all the momentum the team was building. Graceland has outgained its opponents on the ground by 20 yards, but has allowed seven more rushing TDs to its opponents. Matt Fink threw for 202 yards last week, but averages just 121.8 yards through the air per game, putting more pressure on the running game to remain efficient on first downs. The defense held a potent Evangel offense to 421 total yards, five fewer than its own offense gained, but four turnovers by the offense spoiled an outstanding effort. The secondary deserves special recognition as they held the league's leading pass attack to a 12-of-27 clip for 214 yards. Billy Wendt leads the team with 66 tackles, including 6.0 for loss, while Reggie Ramey and Tommy Vasquez have 3.5 sacks apiece.
About the Eagles: Freshman QB Jacob Jackson nearly led Central Methodist to an upset victory last week as the Eagles hung with #12 Benedictine before falling by a touchdown. He was 14-of-23 in the air last week while also rushing for a touchdown as the Eagles ran 27 more offensive plays and averaged 4.7 yards per rush. Despite the loss, head coach Jody Ford has to be pleased with the progress of his team as they face games against the two teams on either side of them in the conference standings the next two weeks. The defense settled in after an early barrage and limited the Ravens to just 50 offensive plays and 261 total yards. Conner White had 4.5 tackles for loss and will need to continue to disrupt things in the backfield against a team that will also provide a heavy dose of rushing plays. The Eagles are allowing 136.5 rushing yards per game, good for third in the conference, and will look to control the ball and the clock as they did last week against Benedictine.
Peru State (3-3, 1-3 HAAC) at #21 Evangel (4-2, 3-1 HAAC), JFK Stadium, Springfield, Mo., 1:30 p.m.
All-Time Series: Peru State leads, 3-2
Last Season: Peru State 20, Evangel 13 (Oct. 15, 2011 - Peru, Neb.)
Last Time Out: Evangel 35, Graceland 14; Peru State 47, Trinity (N.D.) 21
About the Bobcats: As much as head coach Steve Schneider has relied on his running game so far this season, he'll need another great effort from that part of his offense to help control the clock and limit the opportunities for the Evangel offense this week. The Bobcats have allowed 7.5 yards per attempt and 14 touchdowns through the air, but have to prevent the big plays that Evangel has taken advantage of this season. Preston Bruss is second in the conference with 10.2 tackles per game and will be tested in both facets of the game. Ryan Ludlow averages almost seven yards per carry and leads the conference with 125.2 yards per contest. The more touches he receives, the better the odds will be for the Bobcats.
About the Crusaders: Instead of suffering a letdown following a game-changing victory, Evangel took care of business on the road last week at Graceland to continue building momentum. The Crusaders have been a force at home this season, winning all three of their games and averaging 42.0 points in Springfield. Though Andrew Brimhall has thrown 11 interceptions in six games, he had his first turnover-free game last week despite completing just 12-of-27 throws. The running game helped pick up the slack as Otis Brown ripped off a 66-yard touchdown run to break open a close game while he and Tommy Meyer have combined to average 133.9 yards on the ground per contest. The linebacking corps led by Stephen Swillum will have to be sharp against the Peru State running game.
#10 MidAmerica Nazarene (4-1) at Gardner-Webb (N.C.) (0-5), Spangler Stadium, Boiling Springs, N.C., 6:00 p.m. (EST)
All-Time Series: First meeting
Last Time Out: MNU 63, Culver-Stockton 3; Liberty (Va.) 42, Gardner-Webb 35
About the Pioneers: While MNU will need some help in order to claim a part of a third-straight conference title, there is still plenty to play for in Olathe as the postseason is well within reach. Sean Ransburg has put the nightmare that is the loss to Missouri Valley behind him and tossed eight touchdown passes while rushing for two more over the past three weeks. The offense has found the explosive qualities that head coach Jonathan Quinn expected to see as he finally has all of his weapons healthy. Greg Gates has at least 100 rushing yards in every game, anchoring a rushing attack that is averaging 222.4 yards per game. A veteran defense continues to improve and the addition of Mike McJunkins, who has 9.5 tackles for loss in just three games, gives the Pioneers another disruptive presence alongside Demarco Kemp and Joe Camacho up front.
About the Bulldogs: Gardner-Webb returns to play against a NAIA team after being a part of the association from 1970-1993 and playing in the 1992 national championship game. Head coach Ron Dickerson', Jr. played for the Kansas City Chiefs - as did MNU head coach Jonathan Quinn - and is 4-12 in his second season in charge. Gardner-Webb and Liberty combined for a Big South-record 771 passing yards last week in the Bulldogs' 42-35 defeat, dropping their record to 0-5 for the first time since 1990. Lucas Beatty guides the offense, completing 106-of-159 for 1,144 yards and two TDs while Tanner Burch is ranked #7 in NCAA-FCS Division with 11.8 tackles per game.