OZARK, Mo. — A big second half saw the 9th-ranked Evangel football team rally back for a 23-17 win Saturday on Senior Day over Missouri Valley.
The Crusaders scored in all three phases of the game to improve to 8-1 overall and 3-0 in the Heart South Division.
“I was really pleased with how our team responded in the second half. We came out and executed in all three phases today,” head coach Chuck Hepola said.
Erasing an early deficit Evangel trailed at halftime, 10-7. It was the first time trailing at the half this season for the Crusaders.
“We talked at halftime about relaxing. Take it one play at a time and trust our fundamentals,” Hepola added.
Evangel took the opening drive of the second half 77-yards in 13 plays culminating with a 28-yard touchdown strike from Cameron Hardesty to Sam Buckner. It was the fourth straight game the duo hooked up for a score as Hardesty finished 19 of 28 for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
The combination of Buckner and Jansen Acklin proved dangerous again for Missouri Valley when Hardesty found Acklin with 3:27 left in the third quarter. Acklin outran the Viking secondary for a 69-yard score and his second of the day. The senior scored in the first half when he broke open a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Acklin and Buckner each caught five passes with a touchdown, while the senior Acklin finished with 95-yards and Bucker added 54-yards.
Missouri Valley would make it a game as Jake Bridges nearly stole the show. The Viking quarterback rushed for 60-yards and threw for 236 yards with a pair of scores on the ground.
The biggest came with 9:44 in the fourth quarter to pull Missouri Valley within 21-17.
However, the Evangel defense answered the bell again.
The Crusaders were nearly able to run out the clock before punting with 16 seconds left in the game. An errant snap was kicked out the back of the end zone by the Viking quarterback resulting in a safety to ice the game, 23-17.
Defensively Evangel sacked the Vikings five times as Sam Morton finished with 13 tackles, two sacks, and 4.0 tackles for a loss. Seniors, Dominic Swillum and Micah Daniels added nine tackles, while Swillum also had 1.5 sacks.
Evangel continues its championship run on the road with its final two home games away from Tiger Stadium. The Crusaders head to Central Methodist next Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff.