The first half Berry’s game against Southern Athletic Association foe Millsaps played out like a staring contest under the brutal late-September heat Saturday afternoon.
But on the first play of the second half, the Majors blinked, and the Viking flood gates came open.
Mason Kinsey reeled in a 69-yard touchdown pass after Berry received the kickoff after halftime, and Devin Grier intercepted a Millsaps pass on the next drive before returning it 38 yards for another score as the Vikings handed the Majors a 31-14 defeat at Valhalla Stadium.
Heath Burchfield and Gavin Gray each threw a touchdown pass to Kinsey in the second half, and Darius Barnum ran in a 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“I would love to say it was a rousing halftime speech, but it wasn’t. Our guys hung in there,” Berry head coach Tony Kunczewski said.
“It wasn’t a slow start at all. Millsaps is a good football team. They play really good defense, and we just got some breaks in the third quarter that we were able to take advantage of. We played a complete second half, but I also give the other team credit too.”
Both teams came into the game undefeated with an early push for a conference championship on the line. Berry — ranked No. 10 in the country by D3football.com — has won three straight SAA titles and knows Millsaps well, having played overtime games against them two of the last three years.
“They play a lot like us, so we always felt like the reason these games are so close is we’re kind of mirror images of one another and the way we play football,” Kunczsewki said. “I think we’re playing good team football. All three phases of the game kind of relate to one another. I think defensively we’re playing at a high level.”
Berry (4-0, 2-0 SAA) had interceptions from Grier, Mack McCullough and Elohim Hull, the last of whom picked off Millsaps quarterback Amryn Jeffrey at the Vikings’ 30-yard line with 1:08 left in the game. Berry was then able to out the clock.
Cullen Carlin recovered a Majors fumble earlier in the fourth quarter to put Berry’s offense back on the field at the Millsaps 17. Gray, a former Calhoun standout, found Kinsey in the back of the end zone four plays later for a 9-yard touchdown pass that put the Vikings up 31-7 after Trey Gregory’s kick on the extra point.
“It was good to get some takeaways on defense because we needed them and it certainly helped spark our offense,” Kunczewski said. “That’s the one phase of our game that we weren’t very good at so far this year.”
The Vikings were minus-2 in the turnover margin this season prior to Saturday’s game. They finished last season fourth in the country in Division III with a margin of plus-19.
Barnum’s touchdown came at the end of an 8-play, 71-yard drive that was highlighted by a 37-yard run by Isaiah Dawson that wound up being the longest run from scrimmage by either team.
A 12-yard run by Barnum on the next play was extended by an unsportsmanlike penalty on Millsaps’ Nick Gradnigo to put the Vikings on the 4-yard line. Barnum then jumped over one of his linemen two plays late to get into the end zone.
Berry held a 3-0 lead after the first half as each team’s offense struggled to find any momentum to make it into the end zone. Both teams traded punts from the beginning of the game until McCullough stepped in front of a Jeffrey pass and returned it to the Majors 23 with 2:01 to go in the first quarter.
The Vikings were unable to capitalize however as Gregory sent a 36-yard kick wide left on fourth-and-10.
Berry broke open the scoring in the second quarter after Brock Skinner recovered a muffed punt at the Millsaps 30-yard line and Gregory got some redemption with a 30-yard field goal try that split the uprights.
The Vikings travel to Tennessee next Saturday to take on Sewanee. Kickoff is at 2 p.m.