MACON, Ga. — In many ways, Berry College’s inaugural football season begins in earnest this week as the Vikings travel to Memphis, Tenn., to take on Rhodes College.
So far this season, Berry (1-2) has yet to play a Southern Athletic Association conference opponent. However, of its seven remaining games, six are against SAA opponents, while the seventh is against a school that will join the conference in the future.
The team kicked off its season against Maryville College (2-1) with a 37-0 loss, then defeated the LaGrange College JV squad on Sept. 15 by a 37-27 margin. The Division III Vikings saw their stiffest competition of the young season last weekend in a 43-0 loss to Mercer University (3-0), a member of the Football Championship Subdivision.
Berry’s foray into out of conference match-ups is effectively finished. Following Rhodes, Berry travels to St. Louis on Oct. 5 to take on Washington University, which is joining the SAA as an associated member for football in 2015, then returns home to face Centre College on Oct. 12.
“Starting next year, whoever wins that conference gets an automatic bid to the national playoffs,” Berry Coach Tony Kunczewski said in an interview following the Mercer game. “It’s time to start those conference rivalries right now. We get an opportunity to go to Rhodes in Memphis, and we’re looking forward to that and getting back to playing Division III schools.”
While Berry is facing Division III schools moving forward, their schedule is not a cakewalk. Three of the Vikings’ opponents, Birmingham-Southern University, Millsaps College and Centre College, received votes in the first AFCA Division III poll of the year, released Monday.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy this year,” Kunczewski said after the Mercer game. “We still have a lot to learn, but we can see improvement literally every day in practice. As long as we’re moving forward, that’s the main goal. And, I know that we’re moving forward right now.”
Despite a losing record, Berry has seen much on-field success in its first three games, especially considering its roster is comprised of mostly freshmen. Some highlights:
- Berry’s two primary quarterbacks — Adam Sandin and Sandon Mims — have completed 35 of 72 passes and combined for a quarterback rating of more than 100.
- The Vikings two primary kickoff returners — Christopher Lilly and Jonathan Lewis — have averaged 23.5 yards per return in six returns apiece.
- On defense, linebacker Anthony Batey leads the team with 26 tackles, followed by linebacker Preston Stewart with 21 and linebacker Matt Farinella with 19.
- Punter Mitchell Blanchard has a 40.2 yards-per-punt average in 22 punts.
- In two home games this season, Berry has averaged an attendance of 4,154 per game. With 6,700 fans in attendance, Berry’s season opener was the second highest attended Division III game for week one; only Millsaps-Mississippi College at 6,934 had a higher attendance.