Conference competition begins for football

The Tigers kick off conference play by beating Berry 27-6

Through three games this season, it’s clear to see why the Trinity football team was picked to finish atop the Southern Athletic Association (SAA). They dominated Macalester College and Texas Lutheran University (TLU) 64-0 and 51-14, respectively. On Saturday Oct. 2, they beat Berry College (GA) 27-6.

However, there’s a difference between being picked to finish atop the conference and going out and doing it. A big one. Now, six games of SAA competition stand between Trinity and a conference championship.

The Tigers last accomplished the feat in 2019 when they were league co-champions, finishing the regular season with the same 7-1 in conference record as Berry College. This year the goal for Trinity will be an outright championship, the first since joining the SAA in 2017 and the first outright championship since they won the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) in 2011.

What Trinity showed in their first three games was impressive, but the three opponents they have faced now carry a combined 4-9 record. Unimpressive. Simply put, Trinity has taken care of business to this point in the season. Sitting at 3-0 is exactly where they expected to be.

This is the sentiment that junior defensive lineman Harris Good shared when asked about bright spots ahead of the team’s trip to face Berry College.

“These past two games we’ve been doing what we’ve expected to do. I think our defensive line has really been our strong point on defense,” Good said.

That comes as little surprise. The defensive line is part of a front seven that Head Coach Jeremy Urban raved about earlier this season. Urban identified the group as being the strongest on the team, perhaps amongst the best front sevens in the nation.

Names like Michael Jewitt, James Ogunrin, Campbell Miller, Matthew Willis and Good himself stand out as individuals in the defensive line that have been honored on All-SAA teams.

Their play has backed Urban’s claims. The Tigers have allowed just 30.3 rushing yards per game to this point, totaling a whopping 26 tackles for loss. They’ve also gotten to the opposing quarterback for 5 sacks and have forced 6 turnovers. Opposing offenses have only managed to gain an average of 179.6 total yards per game.

There is worry that the team’s performance from these first three games could lead to a sense of complacency, according to Good.

“When you’re bigger, faster, stronger than the people you’re playing against, you start to get kind of complacent, so that’s been something we’ve been trying to fight,” Good said.

Senior wide receiver Austin Bertness expanded on this point.

“The first two games were good for us to face someone other than ourselves. A big talking point going into our first two games was not becoming complacent with our early success. We have big goals as a team, and the only way to accomplish them is improving one day at a time and controlling what we can control,” Bertness said.

So far Bertness and the Trinity offense have capitalized on the things they can control and earned a total of 142 points, thanks in large part to the stellar play of first year starter Tucker Horn.

Horn entered the program in the 2019 season as a transfer from Abilene Christian University. He spent his first year campaign as a backup, but last year split reps in a shortened spring season. Now, with the reins fully at his disposal, Horn is firing on all cylinders. The junior has completed 77% of his passes for 881 yards and 13 touchdowns, earning SAA Offensive Player of the Week honors after defeating TLU.

Horn has been helped by a multitude of receivers on the outside, including Bertness, Ryan Merrifield and Caleb Crawford. The trio has combined for 31 catches, 452 yards and eight touchdowns.

Their success has been made much easier by the play of the offensive line, providing Horn with sufficient time and space to throw but also establishing a running game that has proved difficult to slow down.

Through three weeks, Trinity has logged 525 yards on the ground, an average of 175 yards per game. Sophomore Winston Hutchinson, sophomore Legend Grigsby and senior Gerald Daniels have been responsible for the bulk of these carries, each offering something unique in the ground game.

Hutchinson has been featured as the lead back and, according to Urban, has potential as a true three down back. Grigsby is in the midst of a transition from wide receiver. So far, he’s run straight downhill at defenses and shown tremendous speed, and lastly, Daniels has impressed with his patience, finding ways to maneuver for five to six yards a carry, even when running behind second and third string offensive linemen.

According to Urban, what has impressed him the most about his team early in the season has been their ability to stay in the moment.

“So far this season, I have been most impressed by our team’s ability to focus on the ‘here and now’ and not get too wrapped up in what has already happened or what is yet to come,” Urban said.

They will bring this “here and now” attitude with them each week. They did so against Berry College to open SAA play. Finishing atop the conference in each of the last five seasons – including the shortened spring 2021 season – the Vikings posed one the biggest threats to the Tiger’s goal of an outright SAA Championship.

In their 27-6 victory Trinity outgained Berry 106 to 31 on the ground and 251 to 150 through the air for a total of 357 to 181. The Tigers forced two turnovers and kept the Vikings out of the endzone for the entire game, allowing just two field goals. Again, the offense brought a balanced approach with Horn finding Bertness and Chris Stewart for scores through the air and Hutchinson finding the endzone twice more on the ground.

Berry falls to 2-2 this season, but their other loss came at the hands of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the third ranked team in the country according to

Ahead of the matchup against Berry, Urban expressed excitement to play against the Vikings which had beat the Tigers in their last game in 2019.

“I’m really excited to kick-off conference play against such a well coached team like Berry. While both teams will have a lot of new faces on the field compared to our last meeting in 2019, the reality is both programs bring in competitive, physical football players who want to be champions,” Urban said.

Good pointed to two major differences in Berry from just a couple of seasons ago.

First, the departure of Mason Kinsey, a wide receiver who ranks first in Berry history in career receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Second, a new scheme under a new offensive coordinator, a much more traditional approach than the Vikings previously used.

Bertness kept the focus on the Tigers, viewing the game as an opportunity for Trinity.

“We look forward to the opportunity of going into their home field and proving to the rest of the conference that we are a different, more mature team than in recent years,” Bertness said.

But things don’t stop with Berry. Centre and Birmingham-Southern have both opened their seasons 4-0, outscoring opponents 152-83 and 194-32, respectively. In addition to these opponents, Trinity will face Hendrix College, the only team to beat them in the shortened spring campaign, a game in which the Tigers were intercepted five times.

Coach Urban touched on things moving forward and what his team needs to do in order to be successful this season.

“I believe that this team has some very strong potential, potential to accomplish their goals, but ‘potential’ has never won a championship. Talent and potential may occasionally win a game and may give you a false sense of security, but it has never been sustainable on its own,” Urban said. “We are now at the point where we need to start stacking championship level practices and games on top of one another. We need to continue to show that we can focus on the here and now, compete hard with one another during the week, trust each other on game day, commit to sustained execution, and if we do all of that, and we stay healthy, I think our guys will have fond memories of this fall.”