After Tony Kunczewski helped start the football program at LaGrange eight years ago, he said he’d never do it again.
That was before Berry offered him the job as its first football coach.
So last year, he started another one.
And he suffered through the inevitable losing that often comes with first-year teams.
Berry lost all nine games in 2013 and the first three this season before defeating Washington (Mo.) 29-23 in overtime last Saturday for its first-ever victory.
“You couldn’t have written a better script,” Kunczewski said. “It was homecoming, what we call Mountain Day, and it was the 100th anniversary of Mountain Day. We had a late (6 p.m.) start and had fireworks. It was looking bleak for us, but there was a dramatic finish and we won it in overtime.
“It was a relief to get that win under our belt.”
Berry quarterback Dale Jackson threw for a school-record 374 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner to Josh Bullock (Dacula) on the first play of overtime, to be selected the Southern Athletic Association’s offensive player of the week.
And a diving, one-handed interception by cornerback Malcholm Graham (Whitewater) with less than a minute remaining in regulation was selected as D3football.com’s national play of the week.
“I have no idea how I caught that,” Graham said. “The quarterback overshot his receiver and the ball was hanging up there. I laid out for it and stuck my hand out and it fell right in it. I just wanted to hold onto it when I hit the ground.”
Kunczewski was the defensive coordinator at LaGrange – which lost its first 20 games in 2006 and ’07 — for seven years before leaving for Berry, a private school in Rome known for its 27,000-acre campus. He was hired in April 2012 and spent several months building his staff before the program played its first game in August 2013. The first roster consisted almost entirely of freshmen.
And like a lot of first-year programs, there were some ugly losses, including scores like 43-0, 42-0, 48-6 and 44-7.
This season’s roster has sophomores and freshmen, although there are a few juniors.
Jackson and Graham were among the group that Kunczewski calls the “pioneers.”
“We have a pretty-tight knit group,” Graham said. “We had to bond pretty quickly. We did all these awkward ice breakers last year, and among the guys from that group who are left this year, the bond is tighter. Those nine losses last year brought us closer together.”
Showdown down south
Valdosta State had an extra week to prepare for West Georgia’s sudden surge.
The Wolves (5-0, 1-0 Gulf South Conference), No. 21 in the American Football Coaches Association poll, feature a defense that is fifth in Division II in total yards (233.2 yards) and sixth in scoring (nine points).
They’re also averaging 36 points offensively behind a balanced attack that includes the running of Seth Hinsley (Norcross), who has 356 yards, and Brandon Lucas (Mundy’s Mill), who has 353, and nine touchdown passes from Dallas Dickey (Carrollton).
Valdosta State (2-2, 0-2) has lost two consecutive games since a 2-0 start, but was off last week.
New look for Eagles
Georgia Southern (4-2, 3-0 Sun Belt) won’t be wearing their traditional blue jerseys and helmets and white pants in today’s game against Idaho.
The team is going with what’s being called “lead-colored” jerseys, which are paired with gray pants, gray socks and a two-toned helmet that’s dark blue and metallic silver.
Around the state
Shorter safety Jordan Shaw (Pickens County) had two more interceptions in the Hawks’ 35-20 loss to Delta State on Thursday and leads the NCAA (FBS, FCS, Division II and III) with eight. … Clark Atlanta freshman defensive back Terrence Montgomery (Westlake) is the SIAC newcomer of the week after he had 10 tackles in a loss to Morehouse. He’s second on the team with 26 tackles. … Mercer’s opponent is Austin Peay (0-5), which has lost 17 consecutive games, the longest streak in FCS. … The 79th Annual Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic, which will be played in Columbus, will be shown on Aspire TV. … Fort Valley State freshman receiver Drelon Freeman (Carver-Columbus) averages 22.7 yards on his 17 receptions, six of which have gone for touchdowns. … Albany State linebacker Tavarius Washington (Burke County) leads the SIAC with 11.8 tackles a game, which is 19th in Division II.
Delta State 35, Shorter 20
Point at Alderson-Broaddus, noon
Tyler at Georgia Military College, 1 p.m.
N.C. Wesleyan at LaGrange, 1 p.m.
Berry at Centre, 1:30 p.m.
West Georgia at Valdosta State, 2 p.m.
College of Faith at Clark Atlanta, 2 p.m.
Kentucky State at Fort Valley State, 2 p.m.
Paine at Limestone, 2 p.m.
Austin Peay at Mercer, 4 p.m.
Tuskegee vs. Morehouse (Columbus), 5 p.m.
Savannah State at Florida A&M, 5 p.m.
Idaho at Georgia Southern, 6 p.m.
Lane at Albany State, 7 p.m.