Berry rusher channels confidence on record day

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Austin Lowe is a record-setting junior for Berry -- and he's a far cry from where he was as a freshman.
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Austin Lowe loves playing tennis and was on the team when he was in high school. But when the Berry running back was asked if he ever considered playing the sport in college instead of football, he laughs.

“I wasn’t good enough to play it in college,” said Lowe, noting his football skills are far better than his tennis talents ever will be. “I only played it because I like the sport. And I still play it when I have time, but only for fun.”

No one will ever question Lowe on whether or not he picked the right sport to play at the next level. He made that quite clear over the weekend, setting a school record for rushing yards in a game (169) and punctuating the effort with a pair of touchdowns as Berry rolled to a 52-37 win over LaGrange on Saturday.

Lowe was named the SAA Offensive Player of the Week for his effort, and the Vikings are off to a 2-0 start for the first time in the four-year history of the program.

“It was a great confidence booster for me,” Lowe said of his impressive performance. “The offensive line dominated. There were three or four runs I had where I wasn’t even touched. It’s easy to get a record when your offensive line is playing that way.”

Lowe is essentially picking up where he left off a year ago when he came onto the scene late in the season and earned honorable mention All-SAA recognition.

Once off the radar after rushing for just 37 yards as a freshman, the standout from Georgia bulldozed his way to 600 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore, including 159 yards in a game against Washington last October.

“I went into last year as the third-string running back, but I wasn’t surprised by what I was able to accomplish,” Lowe said. “I knew what I was capable of doing and just needed an opportunity to do it. It ended up being a great year.”

Berry head coach Tony Kunczewski is pleased with the progress Lowe has made over the last year with the Vikings.

“He really came on late last year, and at the end of the season, we felt that he probably needed more carries going into the next year,” Kunczewski said. “He’s become a featured back for us and has delivered.”

Lowe carried the ball just 11 times as a freshman but raised that total to 128 as a sophomore. He’s at 40 carries this season, with 27 of those coming against LaGrange.

“My mindset and preparation has really improved. I understand the offense a lot better and the defenses I’m going up against,” Lowe said. “I just try to take the Marshawn Lynch approach and be aggressive and physical.”

Lowe is part of a Berry offense that just set a school record for points in a game (52). The Vikings have gone over 400 yards and put up 86 points in their first two games.

“We’ve opened up our offense a lot more,” Kunczewski said. “It helps we have a veteran offensive line and are very deep at tailback. We’ve just been very efficient on offense and feel fortunate to be 2-0.”

Kunczewski wasn’t sure what to think of his team, though, as it prepared for the start of the 2016 campaign. The pain of losing two straight to close out last year, costing the Vikings an SAA title in the process, still lingered heading into camp.

“It made me a little nervous because the guys were so business-like about everything,” Kunczewski said. “I wanted them to have fun, too, and they have. They came out ready to get going, and our success going back to last year shows how far we’ve come as a program.”

Berry has indeed come a long way. Winners of just two games in the first two seasons, the Vikings have won nine of their last 12 going back to 2015.

Their goal is to win the SAA title that slipped from their grasp a season ago and make a run in the playoffs as well.

“We’re motivated because we were so close last year,” Lowe said. “We had the title in front of us but couldn’t win the last two. But we feel good about this team. We are balanced, and we believe we can go a long way if we play our best football every week.”

Ringing up sacks

Alex Foust turned in one of the best games of his career Saturday, recording three sacks to help Millsaps nail down its first win of the season, a 24-20 victory over Trinity. The senior defensive lineman racked up eight total tackles, including six for a loss.

In two games for the Majors this season, Foust has come through with 12 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He ranks third on the team in tackles and is on his way to building off the success he enjoyed last year when he finished with 49 tackles and four sacks. A first-team All-SAA selection last year, Foust has recorded 40 or more tackles in each of the last two seasons.

Close call for Kangaroos

Austin College jumped in front 19-3 on Howard Payne in the first half and held on for a 19-17 victory, its first of the season.

Quarterback Cooper Woodyard played a pivotal role in the win, throwing for 232 yards on 20-of-32 passing. He was picked off once and did not throw a touchdown pass.

The Kangaroos finished with 362 yards in all. Woodyard has completed 66.2 percent of his passes (43-of-65) in the first two games and has thrown for more than 500 yards (503). He has thrown only one touchdown pass this season for a Kangaroos team that is 1-1 on the year.

Wildcats clicking on offense

Louisiana College put up 40 or more points for the second consecutive week Saturday in a 49-18 win over Texas College.

Five turnovers doomed the Wildcats in their 52-49 loss to Huntingdon a week earlier, but they did a better job of taking care of the ball this time around en route to their first win of the year.

D’Ondre Joseph made the most of his first start, throwing for a pair of touchdowns and rushing for two more to pace the offense. Joseph was starting in place of the injured Easton Melancon and had completed only eight passes the previous season.  But his lack of experience wasn’t a factor as the Wildcats dominated on offense.

Having a defense that rose to the occasion also helped. It limited the Steers to 79 yards and picked off six passes, with Mike Collins returning one for a score. It was his first pick of the year. Collins didn’t have an interception last season and finished the year with 37 tackles.

Sideline notes

Kerrigan Pennington played in just his second game at quarterback Saturday for Birmingham-Southern and put on quite a show as he had a hand in all four of the Panthers’ touchdowns in a 49-28 loss to Huntingdon. The former defensive back threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more. He went over 100 yards rushing (171) for the second consecutive game.

Down 17-0 in the second quarter, Southwestern battled back for a 24-17 win over McMurry Saturday. Dylan Wilburn fueled the comeback, rushing for 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner on a 13-yard run with 1:31 left. He was named the SCAC Offensive Player of the Week on Monday.

Andre Wilson carried the ball 14 times and rushed for 87 yards as he helped Sul Ross State hammer Wayland Baptist 48-27 Saturday. He scored his final touchdown with less than two minutes left. The touchdowns were his first two of the season and his yardage total was a season-high.

If you have a great story idea or notable accomplishments that deserve a mention in this column, feel free to reach out to me at brian.lester@d3sports.com. You can also follow on Twitter @BLester1993.

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com and wrote Around the Great Lakes for D3football.com from 2012-14. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

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