ROME, Ga. — In one way, a better script with more drama couldn’t be written.
Trailing by two scores after three quarters, Berry tied the game at 23 with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, but missed the extra point, leading to overtime. After stuffing visiting Washington on a fourth-down attempt on the first possession of overtime, Dale Jackson connected with Josh Bullock on a 25-yard-pass on Berry’s first play from scrimmage in overtime, sealing the first-ever true victory for Berry’s young football program.
The 29-23 win came on the school’s 100th Mountain Day, effectively homecoming, and sent the Berry faithful into a frenzy. Students stormed the Barron Stadium field and a post-game fireworks show was a fitting end to a magical night.
“Yes, we would have won in regulation,” Berry Head Coach Tony Kunczewski said in a post-game interview when asked whether he could have scripted the night any better. “I could have scripted that much better. We would have made that extra point and saved us the heart attack at the end.”
Added Kunczewski: “I’m so proud of our guys — the heart and the determination.”
On a crazy night of football in major conference play, it seemed only fitting that Berry’s first win came in a Saturday night game that would have made a great game of the week.
Washington, playing in the program’s 1,000th game, took a 23-10 lead with 8:01 remaining in the third quarter when J.J. Tomlin connected with Hank Childs on a 27-yard touchdown. The Bears’ extra point attempt failed.
“I’d love to say we had a great speech at halftime or had great speeches on the sidelines in the second half, it’s all in our players,” Kunczewski said, praising his players for their determination throughout the game. “The type of character kids they are, that they don’t give up, it’s not us, it’s them.”
But, the momentum started to shift in favor of the Vikings when Matt Farinella blocked a 41-yard field goal attempt in the closing minutes of the third quarter. The Vikings responded with a 10-play, 96-yard drive that ended with a seven-yard Jackson-to-Bullock touchdown.
Berry tied the game with 1:28 remaining in regulation when Jackson connected with Trey Ciresi on a 63-yard touchdown. But, Campbell Harrison’s extra point attempt hit the upright, leaving the game knotted at 23.
With the first possession in overtime, Washington failed to convert on a fourth-and-one, setting up Jackson’s dramatic 25-yard toss to Bullock and sealing the game’s place in the annals of Berry football history.
“You’ve got to figure out how to win,” Kunczewski said. “Hopefully, this catapults us in the future to have more confidence. I don’t care what you say, you need to experience victory to change the mindset, knowing that you can win. Hopefully, this changes the mindset for us a little bit.”
Added Kunczewski: “You’d be lying to say, 100th Mountain Day, still searching for the first varsity win, I’d be lying to say it didn’t go through everybody’s mind. …It was a storybook ending.”
Berry (1-3) travels to Centre (4-0) next Saturday while Washington (1-4) hosts Hendrix (4-0).
- Jackson ended the day completing 29 of 47 passes for 374 yards and three touchdowns.
- Berry’s Malcholm Graham came up with a beautiful interception with a minute remaining in the fourth-quarter to stymie a Washington drive and ensure overtime.
- Saturday’s overtime victory was the second Berry overtime game of the season. The Vikings lost a 28-27 game to LaGrange on Sept.13 in double overtime.
- Saturday’s win is the first victory for Berry against a varsity program. The Vikings defeated the junior varsity squad of LaGrange last year in the school’s second-ever game.
- Kunczewski and the Berry sideline hotly contested a non-call on a potential targeting penalty in the fourth-quarter. “We thought it was targeting, but (the referee) gave a great explanation. It’s a subjective call.” In the end, it didn’t change the outcome of the game.