Vikings football plays first game in school history

Stevan Evans, Campus Carrier Sports Editor

In front of a roaring crowd of about 6,700 fans, the Vikings football team made history last Saturday as they played the first official intercollegiate football game in school history. Despite the support from the enormous crowd, the Vikings fell in their first game to the Maryville College Scots by a score of 37-0.

“Despite the loss, we had a great feeling for Berry’s first game,” Vikings head football coach Tony Kunczewski said. “The atmosphere here is tremendous. Hopefully the guys took it all in. I can’t say enough about all the people at Berry and the folks in Rome.”

The contest opened up with the Vikings kicking the ball off to the Scots to begin the game on defense. The Vikings defense proved strong for the Scots first drive, causing the Scots to turn the ball over on downs after the Scots drove nine plays to the Vikings 31 yard line.

The offense did not start out as hot, as the Vikings were forced to punt the ball away on their first possession.

Although the Vikings had a solid defensive start, they were unable to stop the Scots’ veteran offense a second time as it only took the Scots 10 plays, 79 yards and three minutes and 50 seconds to score their first touchdown. They then led the Vikings 7-0.

The Vikings began their second drive with a 16 yard pass to their own 38 yard-line, however that pass was the only first down the Vikings were able to get before they had to punt it away again.

The Scots were unable to score again in the first quarter, but they scored their second touchdown only 47 seconds into the second quarter on a drive that took them 10 plays and 65 yards.

For the next 10 minutes of the game, the Vikings and Scots battled back and forth, forcing each other to punt and turn the ball over on downs until Maryville scored again with 4:20 left in the second quarter, now leading the Vikings 21-0.

After the halftime break, the Vikings took the kick to begin the second half with possession, but were unable to capitalize on good field position and were forced to punt. Nine plays and 78 yards later, the Scots found their way into the end zone once again to increase their lead to 27-0, however, the Scots missed the extra point.

Two possessions later, the Vikings began to sustain their longest drive of the game, going 37 yards over 12 plays before being stopped on fourth and one at the Scots’ 35 yard line.

The Scots held the ball to end the third quarter, gaining significant ground off of big plays and a Vikings penalty due to an illegal block below the waist.  Only 24 seconds into the fourth quarter, Maryville scored again to put the game out of reach with a score of 34-0.

After another Vikings possession and another punt by Vikings punter, freshman Mitchell Blanchard, Maryville kicked the first field goal of the game to further their lead 37-0.

Following the field goal, the Vikings’ starting quarterback, freshman Adam Sandin was replaced by fellow freshman quarterback Sandon Mims. To this point, Sandin had thrown 13 completions on 24 attempts for 123 yards and no interceptions.

Mims’ debut seemed promising as he the Vikings drive 52 yards to the Maryville three yard line on their final drive of the game. The Vikings were unable to capitalize on their most successful drive of the game as freshman running back Kevin Christmas was stuffed on fourth and one. Christmas lead the Vikings with 10 rushed for 36 yards.

Once the Scots got the ball back, they managed to hold on to the ball to run the rest of the game clock out, finalizing their win.

“The score was very deceiving,” Mims said. “I think the game was a lot closer than the score made it seem. The defense held their ground for the most part. Maryville’s offense did not have many big plays. I also think the offense did pretty well for our first game together as a team.”

Vikings freshman linebacker Anthony Batey had a game-high 10 tackles, and fellow freshman linebacker Preston Stewart added seven.

“I think we took the challenge great, overall,” freshman linebacker Matt Farinella said. “We fought hard on both sides of the ball, despite what the score said. We also have a lot of work to be done to improve our game. On the defensive side of the ball, we need to execute better and play faster. Coming into the game with an essentially all freshman team we didn’t know how fast the game would be. The speed is not something we can simulate at practice as well as seeing it in the game.”

The Vikings team is predominantly freshmen. When team practices started, 95 of the 108 players on the active roster were listed as freshmen, and Kunczewski said there would be no roster cuts.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” Kunczewski said. “We were a team of practically all freshmen in a new program against a veteran team. We purposely recruited young players, though, so that we could develop the guys across four years.”

Kunczewski not only takes pride in the fact that the team is full of young talent, but also that the players all play to their potential.

“I love the effort in these guys,” Kunczewski said. “There’s no quitting with them. You could tell there were 18-year -lds going against 21- and 22-year-olds, but they played tremendously. I would have liked to at least score a touchdown. Just three and a half weeks ago, this team didn’t officially exist yet. Put that into perspective.”

Despite the loss, Kunczewski is looking forward to the rest of the season and has high hopes for the season.

“You have to understand it’s always a process,” Kunczewski said. “Hopefully not the same process as when I was at LaGrange, though. We started out at 0-10 my first season there, but by year three we went 9-1 and won the conference championship. It’s always a process.”

The Vikings will take the field again this Sunday at 2 p.m. against the LaGrange College Panthers Junior Varsity at Darlington High School Stadium.

“This upcoming week against LaGrange should be much more of an even playing field,” Mims said. “Hopefully we will be able to make it a good game and finish with the first win in Berry College history.”

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