Vikings hold on for win, SAA title
Berry College head f ootball coach Tony Kunczewski remembers every step the program has made in its five-year history. He remembers the first touchdown, the first win, the first game and the first winning season.
All along t he way, Kunczewski knew moments like Saturday were possible.
The Vikings relied on a fourth quarter Mason Kinsey touchdown catch to grind out a 24-21 win over Trinity in a Southern Athletic Association matchup Saturday at Valhalla and win the SAA championship outright while completing its first 10-0 season in program history.
“When climbing the mountain, don’t think about t he mountain, j ust keep climbing,” Kunczewski said. “It’s been a long climb, and there’s been peaks and valleys, but our guys have just done a great job of focusing on the task at hand.”
Kinsey led the team with eight catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season f i nale, while quarterback Slade Dale had 188 total yards and two scores. Tate Adcock, sharing time with Dale at quarterback, led the team with 128 yards passing.
After the Vikings (10-0, 8-0 SAA) took the lead in the fourth, Trinity drove into the red zone and had an opportunity to tie or take the lead. But a pair of sacks from defensive lineman Mamadou Soumahoro pushed the Tigers back, and kicker Colby Doyal missed a 40-yarder with 8:30 to go.
Berry didn’t give its opponents another chance, milking the clock in a 16play drive that featured three third-down conversions. It was the perfect finishing touch on the kind of team football the Vikings have played all season.
“None of it was flashy, but in the end we had more points than the other team and that’s what mattered,” Kunczewski said. “And that was just a clinic on how to finish a game in the fourth quarter.”
It was Berry’s special teams that first rose to the occasion Saturday as Antonio White Jr. blocked Trinity’s first punt of the game and Derrell Mims took it in for a touchdown.
The Vikings had trouble getting the offense moving, so Adcock was brought into the game and t hrew a 27- yard touchdown pass to Kinsey in the second. Meanwhile, Trinity’s hurry-up offense led to a pair of touchdowns in the second to tie the game at halftime.
The Tigers (6-4, 5-3) kept momentum rolling to begin the second half, scoring a touchdown to take a 21- 14 lead. But Berry made a field goal and forced a three- and- out to get back in position to take the lead.
And the lead would come on one of the best plays of the day — an acrobatic one-armed catch from Kinsey on a fade route. The 5-yard catch also gave Kinsey the single-season record for receiving yards in a season with 976.
“Slade went to me and I tried to use two arms but my man kind of pulled my right arm back,” Kinsey said. “I just tried to pin it with my left hand and chest and keep it coming down.”
The Vikings will wait and see who and where they will be for the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs when the selection show happens tonight. There is a chance Berry could be chosen in the top 16 and host next week’s game.
Whatever the case, the Vikings are going to take in this victory and all the work the program has done since the beginning.
“We’ve just grown so much through the years,” Senior receiver Trey Ciresi said. “And through that growth we now feel we can beat anybody. We’ve had a mindset throughout every year I’ve been here, and it’s going to get passed on.”
On its final possession, Virginia Tech converted a pair of fourth-down plays and faced thirdand-1 at the Georgia Tech 32 with plenty of time to deal the home team another tough loss.
But, on a day when he made a number of curious decisions, Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente called a pair of passes rather than running for the first down.
Both were incomplete, including a deep pass down t he middle f or Cam Phillips that Kerr knocked away.
“We got the best matchup we could possibly get,” Fuente said. “That was as good a look as we were going to get.”
The Yellow Jackets rushed for 261 yards, led by KirVonte Benson with 86 yards on 22 carries.
Nathan Cottrell had a 69- yard run, setting up Georgia Tech’s first touchdown, a 3-yard run by Marshall. The quarterback also punched it over from the 1.
Georgia Tech appeared to be driving for a clinching touchdown late in the third quarter.
But a chop-block penalty against center Kenny Cooper knocked the Yellow Jackets back 15 yards, and Brenton King missed a 43- yard field goal attempt.
The Hokies took advantage — with a big helping hand from Georgia Tech.
On third- and- 14, Josh Jackson threw a pass into heavy coverage.
A.J. Gray and Lamont Simmons both had a shot at picking it off, but wound up tipping the ball to Eric Kumah for a 26-yard completion — eerily similar to a play that led to a 25-24 loss to Miami.
Jalen Holston’s 8-yard touchdown run on the final play of the third quarter brought the Hokies within 21-16.
A couple of questionable decisions by Fuente cost Virginia Tech crucial points in the first half.
Trailing 7-3 in the second quarter, the Virginia Tech decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the 8, instead of taking a chip-shot field. Backup quarterback AJ Bush attempted to run right, spun back to the left and was thrown for a 3-yard loss.
Later in the period, after Sean Savoy scored on a 14-yard run to pull the Hokies within 14- 9, Fuente passed on the extra point and strangely decided to go for a 2-point conversion.
Again, Virginia Tech was stopped, leaving Georgia Tech with a 14-9 halftime lead.
“I didn’t feel like we were going to have tons of opportunities to score,” Fuente said.
Virginia Tech: Returns home to face ACC rival Pitt on Saturday.
Georgia Tech: Hits the road for its final conference game against Duke.
Berry quarterback Slade Dale (5) stiff arms Trinity’s Sam Hinojosa as he rolls right during Saturday’s game.