Football earns third straight SAA championship title

Avery Boulware, Campus Carrier Managing Editor

michael sandero
Ranking ninth nationally for Division III football and claiming their third straight SAA Conference Championship, Berry football heads to playoffs with momentum. Photos by Kendall Aronson | Campus Carrier

For the third time in their five-year history as a program, the Berry Vikings football team was crowned Southern Athletic Association (SAA) conference champions on Saturday after a 26-10 win over Birmingham-Southern College. Berry has remained undefeated for the entirety of their season. Saturday’s win brought them to a 9-0 record overall and a 7-0 record in conference play. The game also marked 24 straight regular-season wins for the Vikings, with 16 straight wins at home.

“As a team, we just played more physical than them and wanted it more than them,” senior quarterback Derrell Mims said. “We weren’t thinking about winning the championship, we were just thinking about being 10-0.”

This seems to be a common theme among the Vikings: they take their season one week at a time, never rushing to the end. Head Coach Tony Kunczewski has a quote displayed in his office that reads: “When climbing a mountain, don’t think about the mountain – climb.”

Kunczewski said that not once during his career at Berry has he considered a championship win as the most important part of a season.

“When you get caught looking at the top of the mountain, that’s when you stumble,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to be victorious in 24 straight regular season games. But when you start looking ahead, that’s when streaks like that end.”

not andrea hill
Senior running back CJ Stone carries the ball past three defensive players. Berry defeated Birmingham-Southern College 26-10 for their 16th straight win at Valhalla Stadium.

This week, the Vikings have a bye week, which means that they will not play on Saturday. Instead, the team will focus on bettering themselves inside and out.

“We told our guys that our goals are to get rested up,” Kunczewski said. “To go 9 weeks straight, that takes the soul out of everybody. But we also want to stay sharp and improve in areas we need to improve on. We want to get Berry better, not necessarily in preparation for the next opponent, but looking inwardly instead of outwardly.”

Senior running back CJ Stone commended the Berry coaching staff for finding the balance between hard work and rest.

“They know when to handle business, but also know when to chill,” Stone said.

Next Saturday, the Vikings will fly to San Antonio to play Trinity University, ranked third in the SAA. Berry came out on top against Trinity last season, but they are prepared for a tough matchup this year.

Stone said as a whole, the season has been everything he had hoped for at the beginning of the year.

“Coming into my senior year, I had a lot of expectations for going out on a high note,” Stone said. “At this point I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job. I’m feeling pretty good about the season and post season.”

For the Vikings, a particularly impactful event was the season-ending injury sustained by sophomore Justus Edwards, both in the tragedy of his temporary absence and the inspiration that his positive attitude has brought to the entire program.

Edwards calls the team on FaceTime before every game to offer the team prayer and motivate the players. Mims referred to Edwards as the honorary team chaplain.

“He’s the strongest one out of all of us,” Mims said. “He shows us that God is just making his story bigger in all of this, because at the end of the day, it’s all about Him. (Justus) has been showing us that football isn’t the most important thing, but that our salvation is. When he gets tested, he can keep pushing forward, even though it seems like everything has been taken away from him – I don’t know if anyone on the team loves football as much as Justus, but he’s showed us that football isn’t everything.”

Kunczewski said Edwards’ positive attitude and strong Christian faith has helped the rest of the team to stay motivated and play to the best of their abilities in honor of their teammate.

“To have a really tough situation like that and then to see that his faith has never wavered has been an inspiration to us all,” he said. “We’re an inspired bunch because of him, and I think it’s helped us to dig down a little more because of him.”

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