It’s down to 32 teams battling for the NCAA Division III Football Championship. And for the third year in a row, Berry College is entering the fray.
After winning a fourth straight Southern Athletic Association title, the Vikings open the postseason Saturday at noon with a first-round contest at home against Huntingdon. It will be the second time the Hawks have traveled to Valhalla Stadium from Montgomery to start the playoffs.
“The nice thing is we’ve been there a few times before, so it’s not just going to be “happy to be there.” We want to make some noise and we’ve seen some of the best teams in the country in the last two years, so we know what those guys kind of look like,” Berry head coach Tony Kunczewski said.
No. 19 Berry (9-1) has started the playoffs at home the last two years as it has qualified as the SAA’s automatic berth into the bracket. The Vikings have won each first-round matchup before going on the road in the second round and losing. A win Saturday would likely set Berry up for a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 game against top-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“We have a championship mentality, always,” Berry wide receiver Mason Kinsey said. “It’s survive and advance in the playoffs, and we’ve set a standard where we know what it’s like. We know what the teams are like. And there’s a good chance we get to replay some of those teams again if it comes down to the second or third round. And I’m excited for the challenge.”
Huntingdon (7-3) comes into the postseason have won its fourth USA South title in the past five seasons. The team from Montgomery, Alabama, was defeated by Berry 34-20 in the opening round of the 2017 playoffs.
This season, the Vikings roll into the playoffs averaging 36.1 points per game while allowing just 14.0 points per contest. Huntingdon is averaging 36.0 points per game and allowing 26.3. Berry has a 22-game winning streak on its home field.
Dawson, Gregory earn honors
Berry’s Isaiah Dawson and Trey Gregory earned weekly recognition Monday from the SAA for their performances in the Vikings’ regular-season finale Saturday.
Dawson was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Week, while Gregory claimed the SAA Special Teams Player of the Week honor. The duo led Berry to a 55-28 victory over Austin College to clinch the program’s fourth straight SAA title.
Dawson, a junior running back from Decatur, rushed for 162 yards and a program-record four touchdowns. He scored on a pair of long carries from 41-yards and 60-yards out, and closed the regular season ranked third in the SAA with 95.9 rushing yards per game.
“He was a tremendous coming out of high school, and we feel blessed to have him,” Kunczewski said. “He stayed here this summer and worked tremendously hard. He’s a physical dude, and at 200 pounds he can run through you, he can run around you. We feel like he is the complete package.”
Gregory, a senior kicker from Griffin, was 2-for-2 on field goals and hit all seven of his extra point attempts. He also averaged 56.3 yards per kickoff with a pair of touchbacks.