In the two-plus seasons Berry College has played its home football games at Valhalla stadium, only the Centre Colonels have ever defeated the Vikings at the venue.
And on Saturday night, the Vikings weren’t about to let them take another win back to Central Kentucky.
Berry’s defense forced four turnovers and stymied Centre all game long, while a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns allowed the Vikings to beat the Colonels 28-14. The win kept the Vikings undefeated and high atop the Southern Athletic Association standings.
“Centre has been the best team in our league since we started this program, so beating them two years in a row is special,” Berry head coach Tony Kunczewski said. “There’s no magic potion to what we are doing. We just have quality individuals on our team.”
Berry quarterback Slade Dale recorded 245 total yards and four touchdowns — two through the air and two on the ground.
Running back Austin Lowe had 84 rushing yards and wideout Trey Ciresi had five catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.
The Berry defense allowed almost nothing against a Centre team averaging 46 points a game entering Saturday. The Vikings (4-0, 2-0 SAA) held Colonels quarterback Devin Hayes to 15-for-34 for 155 yards, and Centre’s running game tallied only 3.5 yards per carry.
While the Berry offense struggled in the first half, it began the third quarter with a run-heavy drive that ended with a 15-yard Ciresi touchdown catch to go up 14-7. Midway through the fourth, defensive lineman Mamadou Soumahoro stripped and recovered a fumble at the Centre 21, and Dale scored a touchdown two plays later to put Berry up 21-7.
The Colonels (3-1, 1-1) scored again on Hayes’s second touchdown pass with 3:34 left to cut the lead to seven. But Dale finished the game with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Mason Kinsey after Berry recovered an onside kick.
“We could not run the ball in the first half, and we were able to change that in the final two quarters,” Kunczewski said. “Once we established that, our passing game had the ability to make big plays and they did just that.”
The Vikings came out firing on their first drive, covering 78 yards in six plays and finishing with Dale’s 1-yard touchdown run. But Dale and the offense were bottled up for the rest of the half, and the loss of his mobility hurt the offense’s production.
Kunczewski even put backup quarterback Tate Adcock into the game, but Berry only recorded three first downs the rest of the half.
A huge responsibility was bestowed onto the Berry defense, and the unit answered the call. Slowly but surely, the Vikings neutralized Centre’s running game as part of its game plan, leading to more mistakes as the Colonels were left with a one-dimensional offense.
“The whole team was just doing what we needed to do,” Soumahoro said. “Games are won during practices, and we are just going hard in all of our practices. That’s what gave us the difference today.”
Berry continues conference play next week, this time against the newest conference member, Austin College in Sherman, Texas. And while the Vikings had incentive to get revenge on Saturday, Kunczewski hopes that passion carries over to the rest of the season.
“This is great now, but it means nothing if we don’t continue to win,” Kunczewski said. “It is just one step closer to our goal.”