All week long, Berry College football coach Tony Kunczewski told his 2-0 team the “real season” began Saturday with their first Southern Athletic Association matchup.
So far, the real season is going about the same as the rest has.
The Vikings were all business against Rhodes, relying on an efficient pass game and four forced turnovers in a 34-13 victory against the Lynx at Valhalla.
The win gives Berry its second consecutive 3-0 start to the season and its third straight win against Rhodes.
“I think, above all else, we came out with a lot of energy this week compared to the first two games,” Kunczewski said. “The team realized how good Rhodes was going to be, and came out aggressive.”
Berry quarterback Slade Dale finished with 230 total yards and two touchdown passes, while Jacob Collins recorded 141 rushing yards on 16 carries. Sophomore receiver Mason Kinsey recorded 123 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
The Vikings also set a new program record in the game with 530 yards of total offense — 293 passing and 237 rushing.
Rhodes quarterback PJ Settles finished with 272 passing yards, but the Lynx could never climb out of an early hole.
Berry (3-0, 1-0 SAA) wasted no time getting up on its opponents, scoring touchdowns on its first two drives. Both drives featured fourth down conversions and Dale finding Kinsey for a score.
Facing third-and-25 on the first drive, Dale completed passes of 19 and 18 yards to receiver Trey Ciresi to get the first down. Dale then found Kinsey for a 22-yard touchdown before Rhodes (1-2, 0-1) could even get set.
On the next drive, the Vikings faked out Rhodes on fourth-and-1 with Dale dropping back and hitting Kinsey for an 18-yard strike to go up 14-0. The Lynx managed a touchdown in the second quarter, but still trailed 17-7 at halftime.
“As a quarterback, I just need to give my guys a chance,” Dale said. “Ciresi and Kinsey are probably the best receiving duo in the conference. If we get the ball to them, they’re definitely going to make a play with it.”
The game’s biggest turn came on Rhodes’s first two drives of the second half, as a pair of turnovers shut down any chance of an upset.
The first miscue came a few plays into the half, when Rhodes running back Monroe McKay fumbled the ball while crossing midfield and Berry’s Tyler Bertolini recovered. But the Vikings’ offense suffered a three-and-out, putting a tired defense back on the field.
Rhodes took advantage at first as Settles found receivers Josh Loud and Josh Lucas time and again on the sideline. But on first down at the Berry 12, defensive lineman and Former Coosa standout Bryson Lamboy tipped and intercepted a Settles pass to give the Vikings the ball back again.
Backup quarterback Tate Adcock found Kinsey for an 81-yard touchdown pass on the very next play and there was no looking back for the Vikings.
“We were fired up from the opening snap because we knew they could throw the ball,” Berry linebacker Jonathan Fisher said. “If we came out flat, they could’ve beaten us. But we balled out tonight.”
Adcock led one more touchdown drive, this time ending in a touchdown pass to Ciresi to go up 31-7 just before the end of the third. The junior quarterback finished 3-for-3 with 110 passing yards.
The Vikings stay at home again next week when they take on Centre. And while the first test of the real season was a success, Kunczewski knows the team must stay hungry.
“We have to take advantage of the schedule. Two of the best teams in our conference, we start out with at home,” Kunczewski said. “We’ve lost only once at this stadium and it was to Centre in 2015. We’ll probably remind our guys of that.”