Many teams refer to “signature wins” in football and the Enterprise Wildcats (7-2, 4-2) – under head coach Rick Darlington – may have just secured their signature win with a 38-27 win over the Class 7A No. 3-ranked Auburn Tigers (9-1, 5-1) on Friday, Oct. 23.
After getting dominated 44-0 by Auburn a year ago, Darlington said this may have been the biggest win for the Wildcats thus far.
“This was a huge, huge win. Last year they beat us 44-0 and they crushed us,” Darlington said. “They’re a really good team and well-coached and they were undefeated and wanted to finish the season off strong.
“I think we had a good plan but we didn’t play great, especially on offense, at times. We did make some mistakes but our kids played with a lot of guts and they hung in there and got a win. It was a total team win. The defense got stops, the offense made plays and Matt Sheahan made some huge (field goals) and punts. It was just a great, great win and maybe the biggest win so far.”
Just before kickoff a heavy rainfall drenched the two sides – and lasted for much of the game – and that may have played a factor early. Auburn quarterback Matthew Cadwell dropped the first snap of the game and Enterprise defensive tackle Xavier Moore covered it up. Just two plays later, Mykel Johnson put Enterprise ahead 6-0 on a 2-yard touchdown run with 10:46 left in the first quarter. The Wildcats went for a two-point try but couldn’t convert it.
Auburn got on track on its next drive and Caldwell scored on a 1-yard run with 7:55 left in the opening period. The PAT put Auburn ahead 7-6 but that lead would last a grand total of 21 seconds.
Wildcat senior athlete Josh McCray weaved his way through the Tiger special teams on the ensuing kickoff on his way to a 99-yard touchdown return. Auburn made the decision to not kick to McCray for the remainder of the game. Quentin Hayes converted a two-point try to give the Wildcats a 14-7 lead. Enterprise would never trail again.
The Enterprise defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Auburn possession and then as Enterprise faced a fourth-and-10 from the Wildcat 27-yard line a bit of good fortune landed on their side. Freshman tight end Wyatt Darlington snatched the snap out of the air – which was meant to go to the punter – and raced 20 yards for an Enterprise first down.
“Believe it or not that wasn’t a fake punt,” Rick Darlington said. “The snap was bad and (Wyatt) has good hands, so he caught it and thought, ‘What do I do?’ He just took off and they were covering (the punt) because you don’t fake a punt down there.”
As the second quarter began, McCray pounded his way into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run. The Wildcats couldn’t handle the snap on the PAT attempt and Enterprise’s lead remained 20-7 with 11:53 left in the first half.
The Wildcat defense forced another punt but Auburn’s defense also held and forced the first Wildcat punt of the night. The Tigers got back on the scoreboard with a 5-yard touchdown run from Caldwell with 5:58 left in the half. The PAT cut Enterprise’s lead to 20-14 but that score wouldn’t last long.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Jared Smith took a reverse pitch 75 yards for his second rushing touchdown in the past two weeks. The PAT was no good and Enterprise held on to a 26-14 lead with 5:35 left in the half.
Auburn answered by marching down the field on a 7-play, 81-yard drive that Caldwell capped off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Quavian Ross with 3:35 left in the half to cut Enterprise’s lead to 26-21.
Enterprise then drove down the field on a 12-play drive that ate up the rest of the time in the half and Sheahan booted a 27-yard field goal as time expired to send the Wildcats into halftime with a 29-21 lead.
Enterprise kicked off the second half with a 40-yard field goal from Sheahan – a career long kick – to stretch the Wildcat lead to 32-21 with 6:28 left in the third quarter.
The two defenses then settled in and both sides traded punts to end the third quarter. Auburn got back on the scoreboard with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Caldwell to Ross with 9:25 left in the fourth quarter. Enterprise snuffed out the two-point attempt from Auburn and the Wildcat lead remained 32-27.
Enterprise spent almost the entirety of the fourth quarter, on offense, in the “single wing” and drove into Auburn territory before penalties and a sack snuffed out the drive. Auburn then managed to drive to midfield facing a fourth-and-four. Caldwell heaved a 13-yard pass to receiver Jazavion Ray to keep the drive alive and put Auburn inside the Enterprise 10-yard line.
On third-and-short, Wildcat defensive tackle Duwane Buckner and nose tackle Konye Graham sacked Caldwell forcing a fourth-and-long and more Enterprise pressure forced a bad throw on fourth down and a turnover on downs.
“I told them, ‘When the play is over, the next one is there.’ It’s that next play mentality,” Enterprise defensive coordinator Jed Kennedy said of the two fourth downs. “I’m just proud of these kids. They work really, really hard and I told them when we beat Dothan in that post game huddle that that would not be the biggest win of the year. I told them that they would win a game so big they wouldn’t even remember (the Dothan game).”
The “single wing” then took over and Johnson scored on a 61-yard scamper with 1:17 left in the game. The two-point attempt was no good, however, and Enterprise’s lead remained 38-27.
Auburn managed to drive near midfield again and then Wildcat outside linebacker Kenyatta McNeese left the game with an injury. Replacing him was McCray, who had not taken a snap on defense all season. McCray blistered Caldwell on a pass rush and as the ball fluttered in the air, cornerback Marshawn Fitzpatrick snatched it out of the air for an interception and secured the Enterprise win.
“I learned a long time ago, in this game, it’s players not plays,” Kennedy said after the game. “If we have a top five kid in the state then why not put (McCray) in and let him make a play and he did.
“Someone said to me, ‘Coach, he hasn’t taken a snap there all year,’ and I said, ‘I don’t care, I know he’s going to make a play here.’”
Linebacker Aaron Owens also came up big for the Wildcats as he was forced to play at inside linebacker – a position he’s never played – after starter Jackson Blount was injured in the first half and the player that would usually play in his place wasn’t able to play. Owens finished the game with six tackles, one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry.
“We put an outside linebacker (Owens) in at inside linebacker in a place that he’s never played in his life and he played really well for us,” Rick Darlington said. “A lot of guys stepped up when it was their time.”
Kennedy said that Owens stepping up the way he did was an example of the way the Wildcats have progressed.
“We played a kid that’s never played a snap at middle linebacker and he said, ‘Coach, I got it.’ That’s when you’re turning the corner on your program right there,” Kennedy said.
Auburn came into game with one of the most high-powered offenses in Class 7A and Enterprise held the Tigers to 318 yards of total offense and just 117 yards – and six points – in the second half.
“They stepped up and played probably their best game against a great offense,” Rick Darlington said of his defense. “They made some huge plays, tackled better and played physical. The defense played really great.”
Kennedy said that the final two drives are exactly the type of moments his defense has been waiting on.
“I told the kids at some point we were going to have a huge game that I hoped would come down to us getting a stop,” Kennedy said. “To be a great defense you have to want to be in that situation. I’m just so proud of our kids. I’m proud of everybody, that was a heck of a performance against one of the best teams in the state.
“We’re going to enjoy it and then keep working hard. I love these kids. This is a hard game and I probably coach them harder than they’ve ever been coached and it’s an intense setting but our kids respond to that so well.”
The Wildcat offense rolled up 371 yards of offense and was led by Johnson with 82 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Hayes completed 6-of-13 pass attempts for 121 yards, while McCray had 193 all-purpose yards and two total touchdowns. McCray rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, while also catching three passes for 25 yards and completing one pass for four yards. He also had the 99-yard kickoff return touchdown.
The Enterprise defense was led by Moore with 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack and a fumble recovery. Safety Tysen Cole also recorded 11 tackles and linebacker LZ Leonard totaled eight tackles, one tackle-for-loss and three quarterback hurries.