The Enterprise Wildcats (5-2, 2-2) needed a win on Thursday, Oct. 8, to keep their playoff hopes alive and did just that with a dominating 35-13 win over the Smiths Station Panthers (3-4, 0-3) in a Class 7A, Region 2 matchup.
Enterprise coach Rick Darlington called the game a “must win” coming into the week and that didn’t change after the game was moved up a day from Oct. 9 to Oct. 8 due to the threat of severe weather predicted for Friday.
“It was crucial, not just to rebound for confidence but for the playoffs,” Darlington said. “Lose this one and we would be out. It was really crucial. Now we have to keep winning to get into the playoffs. We’d rather be a higher seed but you have to get in and we just want to play.”
As a downpour drenched both teams, the Wildcats controlled the game gaining 456 yards compared to Smiths Station’s 224 total yards. The Wildcats - who wore special camo inspired jerseys in honor of the military on Military Appreciation Night - also picked up 22 first downs and held the Panthers to just nine on the night. In fact, Smiths Station didn’t even cross midfield until midway through the third quarter.
“We gave up some plays (on defense) in the second half and had some penalties (on offense) but even though we had those penalties we still scored (in the second half),” Darlington said. “(The defense) played better. They had a great first half but gave up a couple of plays in the second half and that fake punt hurt us badly but I thought the defense played much better.”
After the Enterprise defense forced a punt to open the game, the Wildcat offense proceeded to march on an 11-play, 73-yard drive that ate up nearly six minutes of game clock. Wildcat Quarterback Quentin Hayes found receiver Jomari Bayaban – in his first game of the season after suffering a collarbone injury early in the year – on a 29-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-13 to put Enterprise ahead 7-0 with 3:50 left in the opening period.
The Wildcat defense forced a three-and-out and the Enterprise offense quickly marched inside the Smiths Station 5-yard line as the second quarter began. The Wildcats, however, fumbled on the Panther three-yard line snuffing out a potential scoring drive.
The Enterprise defense forced another three-and-out, however, and the Wildcats got the ball back on the Smiths Station 29-yard line after a shanked punt.
Enterprise couldn’t get anything going, though, and suffered its only three-and-out of the game. Despite having the ball on the Panther 28-yard line, Enterprise chose to play field position and attempt a pooch punt. The punt, however, only went eight yards.
The Enterprise defense stood tall again as linebacker LZ Leonard dragged down Smiths Station quarterback Corey Minton on third down to force another punt.
The Enterprise offense got going on the next drive as receiver/quarterback Aiden White took a double reverse and tossed a 33-yard pass to quarterback Quentin Hayes down to the Smiths Station 12-yard line. Senior athlete Josh McCray pounded his way into the end zone two plays later for a 1-yard touchdown run to extend the Wildcat lead to 13-0, after a failed PAT, with 2:20 left in the half.
Enterprise would take that lead into halftime. Enterprise outgained Smiths Station 186 yards to just 37 total yards for the Panthers in the half.
The Wildcats opened the second half with another scoring drive that running back Zy’Air Boyd capped off with a 30-yard touchdown run – his first of the season – with 9:20 left in the third quarter. Mykel Johnson converted a two-point try to swell the Wildcat lead to 21-0.
It looked as if the Wildcat defense was about to force yet another three-and-out but the Panthers gained 47 yards on a fake punt on fourth-and-eight to advance Smiths Station past midfield for the first time in the game. Facing another fourth down, Minton found receiver Cianan Williams for a 27-yard touchdown pass to cut Enterprise’s lead to 21-7 with 5:07 left in the third quarter.
Enterprise responded with an 11-play scoring drive that also featured four Wildcat penalties.
After a pair of penalties and a sack, Enterprise faced a third-and-27 on the Smiths Station 45. Hayes tossed a jump ball to McCray, who proceeded to posterize a Panther defender – sailing over the top of the defensive back to make the catch – and then ran over another Smiths Station defender near the goal line to score on a 45-yard touchdown pass as time expired in the third quarter. The PAT extended Enterprise’s lead to 28-7.
The Panthers weren’t quite ready to pack it in for the night, however, as Minton opened up the fourth quarter with a 42-yard jump ball to Williams. A few plays later Minton found Ahmari Peabody for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 9:50 left in the game. The PAT was no good and Enterprise still led 28-13.
Enterprise marched inside the Smiths Station 30-yard line again but turned the ball over on another fumble.
The Wildcat defense forced another three-and-out and the Wildcats drove down to the Smiths Station 27-yard line only to face a fourth-and-one. McCray got the ball on the next play and picked up the yard for a first down, plus an additional 24 yards down to the Smiths Station 2-yard line running over another defender in the process.
Running back Keion Dunlap scored on a 2-yard run on the next play, earning his first career touchdown, with 4:15 left. The PAT extended Enterprise’s lead to 35-13. Enterprise linebacker Jackson Blount recovered a fumble on the next Smiths Station drive and the Wildcats were able to run the clock out to secure the win.
Johnson led the Wildcat offense with 111 yards and a two-point conversion on 13 carries, while Boyd rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown on four carries. McCray rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries along with three catches for 62 yards and another touchdown. Dunlap rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
Hayes completed 6-of-9 pass attempts for 121 yards and two touchdowns, while White completed his only pass attempt for 33 yards. Hayes also caught one pass for 33 yards.
Blount led the Wildcat defense with 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, while fellow linebacker LZ Leonard recorded eight tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one sack and two quarterback hurries. Linebacker Tanner Rogers also had eight tackles, a forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. Linebacker Justin Winters totaled seven tackles and two tackles-for-loss.
Minton completed 7-of-15 pass attempts for 88 yards for the Panthers, while also rushing for 80 yards on 11 carries with 47 of those yards coming on the fake punt. Williams caught four passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Smiths Station gained 89 yards on the fake punt and the one long pass completion but just 135 total yards on the 31 other plays.