The Enterprise Wildcats closed out spring practices on Friday, May 17, with live action against the Park Crossing Thunderbirds at Wildcat Stadium, which was ultimately won by Park Crossing 30-27 in an entertaining night of football.
The first time that new Enterprise coach Rick Darlington got to see his players in game action was a tale of two halves on both sides of the ball.
The Wildcat offense was deadly efficient in the first half while the defense suffered from some of the same issues it did in 2017 and 2018.
In the second half, the Wildcat offense dealt with mental mistakes and turnovers that caused the efficiency to suffer, while the Enterprise defense buckled down and held Park Crossing completely in check.
“We lost and I don’t like to lose and I don’t want our kids to like to lose,” Darlington said of the game. “In the first half the defense was dreadful but in the second half they totally flipped it.
“We had bad fundamentals, bad tackling, bad alignment, bad assignments; just bad defense (in the first half). In the second half, though, they did much, much better. They didn’t let (Park Crossing) score and held their yardage way down.”
Park Crossing rolled up 242 yards of offense and scored touchdowns on all three of its possessions in the first half, but the Enterprise defense held Park Crossing to just 41 total yards and no offensive points in the second half.
The Wildcat offense piled up 240 yards of offense in the first half and scored all three of the varsity’s possessions in the half but then struggled to just 100 yards and one touchdown in the second half.
Enterprise kicked off the game in style when freshman wingback Mykal Johnson raced 70 yards on the first play of the game for a touchdown to put Enterprise ahead 7-0 with 11:43 left in the first quarter following a PAT.
Darlington said that, as hard as it may be to believe, that he knew when he took over the Enterprise job that the Wildcats would score on the very first play of the spring.
“When I got the job and started thinking ahead I knew the first play was going to be a touchdown,” Darlington said. “I didn’t know that MJ (Johnson) would carry it or that we would block it that badly but I knew we would score. MJ made a move and outran those guys on the other side, which was something. He’s going to have a good future here.”
The Thunderbirds didn’t allow that lead to remain for very long as they scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 7:06 left to cut the lead to 7-6. A two-point conversion gave Park Crossing an 8-7 lead.
Enterprise hit Park Crossing right back when fullback/quarterback Jackson Darlington found tailback Josh McCray on a 30-yard touchdown pass with 4:58 left in the opening period.
McCray caught the pass over the head of a defender and then proceeded to run through a pair of defenders on his way to the end-zone. Enterprise attempted a two-point conversion but failed to convert it giving the Wildcats a 13-8 lead.
Park Crossing came right back with a 33-yard touchdown pass with 2:34 left in the period and failed on the two-point try to take a 14-13 lead.
Enterprise struck right back when Jackson Darlington bulled through the Park Crossing defense on an 11-yard touchdown run with 8:51 left in the first half. The two-point try failed again and Enterprise led 19-14.
The Thunderbirds responded in just over a minute with a 28-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion put Park Crossing ahead 22-19 with 7:31 left in the first half.
For the final five minutes of the first half both Enterprise and Park Crossing played their junior varsity squads.
Park Crossing’s JV scored on a 5-yard touchdown run and converted the two-point try to go up 8-0 on the Enterprise JV. Enterprise’s JV marched down the field but failed to convert a fourth down.
Enterprise was able to intercept a Park Crossing pass to get one more chance to score in the half but turned the ball over on downs again as the half came to a close.
The Enterprise JV rushed for 64 yards in their time on the field with quarterback Quentin Hayes – who also starts on varsity as a receiver – leading the way with 40 yards on seven carries.
Park Crossing’s JV rushed for 72 yards. Neither team completed a pass.
The Enterprise defense opened up the second half by forcing a three-and-out but the Wildcat offense turned the ball over on downs a few minutes later.
The Wildcat defense forced a turnover on downs as Park Crossing drove into the Enterprise red-zone on its next possession.
Two plays later, a Wildcat fumble was recovered by Park Crossing, but once again the Enterprise defense stood tall and forced another turnover on downs.
Then, a play that would ultimately be the difference in the game occurred when Johnson was ruled to have fumbled on a carry that looked to be a first down.
As Johnson lay on the ground, the ball squirted out and a Park Crossing defender scooped it up to score on a 37-yard touchdown.
“We always tell our backs to give the ball to the official because that means no one took it out of your hands,” Rick Darlington said. “I’m not an official, so I don’t get to judge whether it was a fumble and the official said it was so it was.”
The Thunderbirds converted the two-point try and took a 30-19 lead with 2:12 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats were not ready to call it a night, however, and proceeded to march down the field on a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run from McCray with 9:35 left in the fourth quarter to cut the Park Crossing lead to 30-25. Johnson then converted the two-point try and cut the lead to 30-27.
Park Crossing was able to run off 6:35 of game clock on its next possession but the Wildcat defense ultimately forced a punt and gave the Enterprise offense the ball with a chance to win with three minutes left.
McCray broke a series of tackles on the first play and picked up 17 yards to get the drive going but the Wildcat offense stalled and turned the ball over on downs to seal the win for Park Crossing.
“The defense did much better in that second half and we just have to keep improving,” Rick Darlington said. “The offense wasn’t very efficient in the second half, though. We didn’t turn the ball over and scored three touchdowns in the first half, while we turned it over twice and scored just once in the second half. Overall, though, they played hard and they cared and wanted to win. You want kids that want to compete and give everything they have.”
Jackson Darlington completed 4-of-11 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 38 yards and a touchdown. McCray rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown while also catching three passes for 58 yards and another touchdown.
Johnson led all rushers with 112 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries. Hayes also had a catch for 35 yards.
Defensively, Eufaula transfer DJ Turner had three tackles-for-loss and a sack on the day, while both Jackson Darlington – who will also be playing defensive back – and Jaylon Webster had a pair of pass breakups.
Enterprise defensive coordinator Jed Kennedy could be overheard applauding the Wildcats for being good teammates in the loss, pointing to junior Josh McCray as being a player that made sure to come over and encourage the defense while they were struggling.
“That’s the type of team you want to have,” Rick Darlington emphasized. “A team that cares about each other, both sides of the ball. You want guys like Josh to encourage the other guys.”
Rick Darlington said that he would much rather have to deal with and correct football mistakes – like fumbles and missed tackles and blocks – than off the field issues.
“I’d much rather see a bunch of football mistakes and fundamental problems as opposed to culture and attitude problems,” he said. “The culture and attitude and the intangibles that go along with it will come along. To turn around a football program it is a lot more mental than physical.”