Baldwin After a sputtering start last week, Baker will need a strong finish this Saturday.
The Wildcats, ranked sixth in NAIA Div. II, will host Missouri Valley in their final regular-season game. Kickoff is 2 p.m. at Liston Stadium.
With a victory, Baker would clinch the Heart of America Conference football title and an automatic playoff berth.
"We've got to win to go on," Baker head coach Charlie Richard said. "We're starting the playoffs this week. We're playing like this is the first round of the playoffs."
Last week's first-half struggle against Mid-America Nazarene awoke the Wildcats.
"AFTER THE slow start last week, the kids are ready for this game," Richard said. "They are focused and will play hard and I'm confident of that."
The Wildcats (8-1) regard the Vikings (6-3) as a high hurdle.
"They've had two weeks to prepare for us and they have the number one defense in the nation," defensive back Billy Baird said. "It'll probably be a low-scoring game and we're going to have to be fired up for it. We can say Benedictine and other games were big games, but win or lose Saturday and that tells the conference championship."
Missouri Valley's defense is surrendering just 214.11 yards per game. That's 20 yards a game fewer than any other NAIA Div. II school.
"They're going to be the best defensive team we've played all year," Richard said. "They blitz a lot and have good athletes in the secondary, which helps them cover man-to-man. They're real quick and come at you with a lot of people. We're going to have to execute well to beat them."
BAKER'S UNRANKED defense will have to stop the Vikings' option attack guided by quarterback Jimmer Hart.
"Their defense scored all the points in the first two games," Richard said, "but their offense has exploded since the change. We've got to stop the option since they're primarily a running team."
A wet field could be a factor.
"Field position is the most important word of the day," Richard said. "In this weather, you don't know what's going to happen. With the mud, whoever gets the most breaks will win."
Baker is ranked No. 5 in total offense, averaging 449.33 yards a game, and No. 3 in scoring offense (38.56). Missouri Valley is No. 8 in scoring defense (16.44) and Baker is No. 10 (16.78).
In individual stats this week, Baker kicker Clint Thezan is tied for No. 4 in scoring with 54 points and safety Scott Catlin is tied for No. 2 in interceptions with seven.