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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Vikings win home opener with big plays and quick drives

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From the first snap, LaGrange made it known to the Berry College fans in Valhalla stadium it was going to control the ball. Whether it was a run in the Wing-T formation or a short pass for a first down, the Panthers wanted to keep the Vikings’ offense off the field.

But one thing LaGrange could never control Saturday evening was Berry quarterback Slade Dale. And the junior made the plays to keep the Vikings on top.

Berry’s defense never broke against a grinding LaGrange offense as the Vikings beat the Panthers 28-14.

The win keeps Berry undefeated entering conference play for the second straight year.

“Hats go off to our guys, because we found a rhythm when we had to,” Berry head coach Tony Kun­czewski said. “We certainly need to clean a few things up, but the defense made some stops and Slade made some big plays.”

Dale finished with 272 total yards and four touchdowns, collecting 100 yards on the ground and another 172 through the air. Mason Kinsey was his main target, bringing down five passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns.

Berry (2-0) was only on the field for 21 minutes thanks to LaGrange’s slow pace, but when it did get the ball it made enough plays to break away from the Panthers.

LaGrange quarterback Connor Blair tied the game at 14 with an 8-yard touchdown to Model alum Brendan Thomas with 2:46 left in the third.

On the ensuing drive, Dale completed three passes for 80 yards, ending with a 24-yard touchdown to Kinsey as the quarter expired.

After forcing a pair of LaGrange three-and-outs, Berry found itself at the LaGrange 30 to begin its next drive. On third down, Dale went deep for Kinsey again, finding the sophomore this time on a 26-yard touchdown to go up 28-14 with 7:08 left in the game.

“We knew what LaGrange’s offense was and what it wanted to do, so we knew we had to come out quick,” Kinsey said. “All the credit goes to the offensive line for giving Slade time and then Slade for making two perfect throws.”

LaGrange (0-2) relied on Blair all night, as he finished 28-of-38 for 219 yards and a touchdown. The senior frustrated Berry most of the night with small passes that kept drives going while running down the clock.

But other than two touchdowns, Berry’s defense stood strong. Twice in the first half the Vikings forced fourth downs around midfield and they stalled another LaGrange drive to begin the second half that resulted in a missed field goal.

On the final LaGrange drive, the Panthers went 56 yards only to stall out on fourth down at the Berry 35-yard line.

“At the end of the day, we aren’t looking at the stats as much as the end result,” Kunczewski said. “We tried to make them one-dimensional throwing the ball, and that was our goal all game.”

As the Berry defense found its rhythm, the offense relied on a ground game of Dale and running back Jacob Collins. Collins finished with 66 rushing yards, almost all of them coming on the final three drives.

The Vikings begin their Southern Athletic Association schedule next week when they host Rhodes College.