The in-state rivalry between two Division III programs adds another entry this weekend with a heaping of home field advantage going to the local squad.
No. 16 Berry will open its home schedule Saturday by welcoming LaGrange to Valhalla Stadium for a 6 p.m. kickoff. The game is the lone contest for Berry against another Georgia opponent in the regular season and a matchup the Vikings haven't lost since 2014.
Berry head coach Tony Kunczewski said his team is eager to have the chance to continue that success in front of a home crowd.
“Our guys are always happy to be at home,” Kunczewski said. “We’ve had a pretty good run at home. A lot of that has to do with the support we get here on Saturdays, and it’s a Saturday night game, so that always amps up the atmosphere a little bit. We’re excited for sure.”
Berry’s 2015 overtime win against the Panthers was the first game at the new Valhalla Stadium, and the Vikings haven’t lost many on their home field since. The team's only loss at Valhalla came at the end of the 2015 season to Centre, after which the team has won 17 in a row and amassed a 21-1 home record.
While coming off a 31-10 win against Maryville, the Vikings aren’t looking past LaGrange. The Panthers are fresh off a 29-14 win against SAA team Birmingham-Southern that featured some of LaGrange's younger players.
Quarterback Shedrick Lindsey went 13-for-24 for 209 yards and Jalen Trice hauled in four catches for 104 yards. Defensive back Jordan Turner led his team with seven total tackles against BSC.
Kunczewski said the win was an impressive effort against a team he expects to be one of the better opponents in Berry's conference.
“We thought going into the season that Birmingham-Southern was one of the up-and-coming programs in our conference,” he said. “LaGrange did a great job against them. They’re very young, but they play very hard. The interesting thing is, for how young they are, they don’t make many mistakes. We’re really impressed, and that caught our attention. Hopefully we’re ready to play on Saturday.”
The Vikings looked strong in their season-opening win against the Scots with quarterback Heath Burchfield going 12-for-17 for 164 yards and three touchdowns and former Calhoun QB Gavin Gray throwing for another score.
Gray, along with former Calhoun teammate Zack Fuller and former Pepperell player TJ Watkins, were among some of the young Berry players Kunczewski has been impressed with so far this season. Fuller rushed for 24 yards on eight carries, while Watkins had five catches for 85 yards.
The Vikings’ home opener will also afford the team a chance to honor some people that have been important to the program.
Longtime Berry College supporter Kay Williams, who’s name is attached to the Vikings’ softball field, and former player Jack Morgan, who was a part of the Vikings’ inaugural football team, will be honored in a ceremony prior to Saturday’s game. Both Williams and Morgan died this past May.
“We’re excited because it gives us the first opportunity to honor some special people before the game.” Kunczewski said.