MOUNT BERRY, Ga. – The Huntingdon football team refused to accept defeat against 19th-ranked Berry College in the opening round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The Hawks and Viking swapped leads six times on Saturday. But in the end, Huntingdon emerged with a 27-24 victory and snapped Berry's 22-game home winning streak.
"A lot of people didn't think we would be where we are right now," Huntingdon senior quarterback Michael Lambert said. "But we had the mindset of 'why not us?'. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain today. We knew we had to be able to put together something special to win and we did."
Huntingdon (8-3) will play top-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor (11-0) in the second round on Nov. 30. The site and time of the game will officially be announced on Sunday.
Lambert threw three touchdown passes against Berry (9-2), including a 56-yard touchdown strike to Garrett Headley for the go-ahead score with 3:31 to play in the game. Junior defensive lineman Dylan Powell helped seal the game in the final minute with an interception on the Vikings' final drive.
"This win means a lot, especially for a team that started the season 1-2," Powell said. "This is a big deal for us. The morale of the team is high and we're all excited. We're thankful for what we have been able to accomplish and for our community and the people who have supported us. We're ready to go back to work and keep playing football."
Saturday's win was the 110th win in the 17-year history of the Huntingdon program. This was the Hawks' fifth appearance in the first round of the playoffs and the second playoff victory in program history. The Hawks earned their first playoff victory in 2015.
"This is pretty cool. It's only happened one other time in our history," Huntingdon head coach Mike Turk said of the first-round victory. "The way these players have responded this season, it says a lot about the character and maturity of the team. I'm proud of these guys and we're excited to be playing another week."
Records: Huntingdon (8-3); Berry (9-2)
Turning Point: Huntingdon and Berry traded scores throughout the game, with Berry's 7-0 lead in the first quarter being the largest lead of the game.
The Hawks led 20-17 at the start of the fourth quarter before Berry took its final lead, 24-20, with 4:35 to play.
"It was a one-score game the whole time," Turk said. "It was a stressful environment and I'm proud of the way we handled it. When we had to answer, we did and we had enough in the tank to finish the game."
Huntingdon's offense and defense both answered in the final minutes.
The offense scored in three plays, regaining the lead on Lambert's 56-yard touchdown pass to Headley with 3:31 remaining. Cole Starr's extra point made it a 27-24 game.
On Berry's final possession, the Vikings marched from their own 20-yard line to the Huntingdon 33-yard line in seven plays. With less than a minute remaining, a sack by Marc Struck on second down and an interception by Powell on third down clinched the win.
Passing: Michael Lambert: 12/25 for 182 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Receiving: Garrett Headley: 3 receptions for 85 yards, 2 TDs
C.J. Pugh: 12-yard touchdown reception
Rushing: Eric Thomas: 15 rushes for 75 yards
Kicking: Cole Starr: 3/4 PAT
Punting: Zach Johnson: 5 punts, 34.8 average, long of 41 yards
Fumble Recoveries: Marc Struck (1)
Interceptions: Dylan Powell (1)
Blocked Kicks: Fred Flavors (1)
Coming Up: Huntingdon will play Mary Hardin-Baylor in the second round of the Division III playoffs on Nov. 30. The time and location will officially be announced on Sunday.