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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Vikings hold on for win, SAA title

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Berry College head football 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 the 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 the mountain, just 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 finale, 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 16-play 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 threw 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.”