BERRY, Ga. (WSFA) - The Huntingdon Hawks (8-3) are moving on to the next round of the Division III playoffs after an exhilarating 27-24 win over Berry College (9-2).
It was a clash of two high-powered offenses, but it was Huntingdon’s defense that ended up making the biggest play in the game.
The two teams matched up two years ago under the same circumstances, but this time the outcome was flipped.
Berry led 7-6 after the first quarter after a 52-yard touchdown on a fumble recovery by Devin Grier with 11:53 to go in the quarter. The Hawks looked poised to even the score with 4:58 remaining. CJ Pugh and Michael Lambert hooked up on a 12-yard touchdown score but the extra point was botched. Cole Starr fumbled the ball and the Hawks remained down 7-6.
Berry would add a field goal early in the second quarter to take a 10-6 lead, which was right where Huntingdon wanted them. In 2017, it was Huntingdon who had a 10-6 lead in the second quarter before the Vikings scored 21-straight points to take a commanding lead into halftime and eventually win the game.
Jumping back to the present, Berry’s 10-6 lead wouldn’t last long. The Vikings scored with 14:09 left to play in the first half, but by the 8:30 mark, the Hawks had taken a 13-10 lead.
The Vikings would battle, scoring with 3:42 left in the half to take a 17-13 lead. It was Mason Kinsey on the receiving end of a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Gavin Gray.
That score would hold going into the half.
In the third quarter at Valhalla Stadium, Huntingdon would score the only points in the period, a 22-yard passing touchdown from Lambert to Garrett Headley (more on these two later). The Hawks would carry a 20-17 lead into the fourth quarter and would hold that lead for much of the fourth quarter. Until.
The lead was held until just over four-and-a-half minutes to play. Gray would toss his second touchdown pass of the game. This one was to Zach Bush for 11 yards. Gray dumped the ball off to an open Bush, who did the rest of the work running into the end zone untouched, giving the Vikings a 24-20 lead.
The Hawks needed to answer with time running down, and they would in a big way. It was a drive that lasted just 56 seconds. Lambert and Headley hooked up for their second touchdown of the game. This one was a 56-yarder, but it wasn’t the icing on the cake.
That came on Berry’s following offensive possession. With the Hawks leading 27-24, they needed to keep the Vikings from scoring a touchdown. A field goal would tie the game and send things into overtime.
Berry’s drive began with 3:31 to play in the game. The first play was a Huntingdon sack. Gray’s second down pass was good enough for 17 yards but still short of the chains. The Vikings would convert third down on a 6-yard rush by Isaiah Dawson. The next two plays would both be rushing plays to Dawson to push the Berry offense to the Huntingdon 46.
Berry used its first timeout with 1:17 remaining.
Gray completed a pass out of the timeout for 13 yards and the Vikings were now down to the Huntingdon 33. In field goal range, if not close to it. Gray’s next pass fell incomplete to bring up second down, then Gray would be sacked to bring up third down and the Vikings would use their second timeout with 53 seconds remaining.
On 3rd and 12, Huntingdon’s defense would add the icing on the cake. Gray’s shotgun pass would be intercepted by Huntingdon’s Dylan Powell and returned 54 yards, sealing the win for Huntgingdon and punching the team’s ticket to the second round of the playoffs.
The Hawks advance to the second round of the D-3 playoffs for the first time since the 2015 season. Their next opponent?
“Excited to be going back to Texas to play the number one team in the country. It’s a tremendous opportunity. They have a really good football program. Good experience for us to compete against the best,” said Huntingdon head coach Mike Turk.
Mary Hardin-Baylor awaits the Hawks in the next round.