The Enterprise Wildcats (2-2, 1-1) had to overcome a 14-0 first quarter deficit to pick up a hard-fought 27-24 win over the Smiths Station Panthers (2-2, 0-2) on the road.
The win gives Enterprise its first area win under new head coach Rick Darlington and saw the Wildcats bounce back from last week’s 44-0 loss to Auburn.
“I was real proud of them,” Rick Darlington said after the win. “They found a way to win.”
The Smith Station game started out, however, to look very similar to that of the Auburn loss as Enterprise trailed 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and had tallied just 15 yards of offense in the opening period.
“It couldn’t have been a worst start,” Rick Darlington said. “I was just so proud of the way they hung in there, though. That’s what you have to have; fighters and tough kids.”
Smiths Station started off the game forcing an Enterprise three-and-out, and then sliced through the Wildcat offense on a 13-play, 51-yard scoring drive capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run with 4:32 left in the first quarter.
On Enterprise’s next drive, a Jackson Darlington fumble gave the Panthers the ball back on the Wildcat 26-yard line, but Enterprise’s defense wasn’t ready to surrender anymore points.
After driving inside the Wildcat 10-yard line, the Enterprise defense stiffened and pushed Smiths Station back before ultimately blocking the Panther’s 27-yard field goal.
What seemed like a potential momentum shift for the Wildcats was quickly smothered out when a mishandled handoff was snatched out of the air by a Panther defender and returned 12 yards for a Smiths Station touchdown with 42 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Things went from bad to worse when a block in the back penalty on the ensuing kickoff pushed the Wildcats all the way back to their own 4-yard line, but with their backs against the wall, the Wildcats answered.
The Wildcats proceeded to march on a 6-play, 96-yard scoring drive capped off by Mykel Johnson’s 57-yard touchdown run with 10:14 left in the second quarter. Johnson made a move at midfield that left a pair of Panther defenders grasping at air on the score. The PAT cut Smiths Station’s lead to 14-7.
After forcing a Smiths Station punt, the Wildcats marched right back down the field on a 5-play, 77-yard touchdown drive. Jackson Darlington put the exclamation point on the scoring drive with a 39-yard touchdown run with 6:08 left in the half. The PAT tied the score at 14-14.
After forcing a Panther three-and-out, Enterprise again drove right down the field with hammer back Cole Killingsworth scoring his first career touchdown on a 21-yard scamper with 1:02 left in the half. The PAT gave Enterprise its first lead of the game, 21-14. The Wildcats would take that lead into halftime.
The Panthers weren’t ready to give up yet, however, and drove all the way down to the Enterprise 5-yard line before the defense once again stiffened up in the red zone. The Panthers were forced to kick a 22-yard field goal to cut the Wildcat lead to 21-17 with 9:37 left in the third quarter..
After Enterprise drove inside the Smiths Station 10-yard line on the ensuing drive, Wildcat running back Josh McCray pounded his way into the end-zone on a 6-yard scoring run, but a holding penalty wiped it out. After another penalty pushed Enterprise back even further, kicker Hunter Perry trotted his way onto the field and drilled a 34-yarder to extend the Wildcat lead to 24-17 with 4:15 left in the period.
After the Wildcat defense forced a Panther three-and-out, Johnson weaved his way through the Smiths Station special teams on his way to a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown, but yet again another penalty wiped out a Wildcat score as a clipping penalty was called during the return.
After a Wildcat punt, Smiths Station was once again forced to punt after a three-and-out. Back-to-back 20-yard runs from Johnson and Killingsworth set the Wildcats up in the Smiths Station red zone. Eventually, penalties pushed Enterprise back again, but Perry once again saved the day. This time, Perry blasted a 45-yard field goal that looked like it had enough leg to be good from 60 yards to put Enterprise up 27-17 with 8:03 left in the game.
“That kick from Hunter Perry was huge for us,” Rick Darlington said. “That really was a big field goal.”
With 2:14 left in the game, Smiths Station finally got back on the scoreboard with a 44-yard touchdown pass. The extra point conversion cut Enterprise’s lead down to 27-24.
Smiths Station lined up for the onside kick but Wildcat linebacker KD McCray fell on the attempt. Smiths Station still had three timeouts, but Josh McCray made those timeouts useless when he broke a pair of defender’s tackles and ran over a third on his way to a 28-yard run. Johnson then put the exclamation point on the win with a 12-yard run and another first down allowing Enterprise to run the clock out and secure a 27-24 win.
Despite the slow start, Enterprise rolled up 431 yards of offense with 401 of those yards coming on the ground, while Smiths Station totaled just 278 yards of total offense.
“(The offense) played great,” Rick Darlington said. “We ran the ball when we needed to. We had some bad penalties and some bad snaps that hurt us. We can’t have that and we have to get that fixed, but we hung there and never stopped fighting.
“No question, this was a huge win for us. Getting down 14-0 like that and to come back and win was really big for our kids.”
Enterprise was led by Johnson with 154 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Johnson has rushed for 150 yards or more in three of Enterprise’s four games. Jackson Darlington added 68 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries along with completing 1-of-4 pass attempts for 30 yards. Jackson Darlington also had three tackles, one tackle-for-loss and two quarterback hurries on defense.
Josh McCray rushed for 93 yards on 15 carries and Killingsworth added 67 yards and a touchdown on five carries. Josh McCray also had five tackles on defense.
Jared Smith caught one pass for 30 yards. Perry converted both of his field goal attempts and also averaged 39.7 yards per punt on three punts.
A trio of Wildcat linebackers had big nights as junior LZ Leonardo recorded a career-high nine tackles with one quarterback hurry and a tackle-for-loss. KD McCray added seven tackles with two tackles-for-loss and Robert Ellis had a season-high 10 tackles with two tackles-for-loss and a quarterback hurry.
Safety Jaylon Webster added seven tackles and one tackle-for-loss and defensive tackle DJ Turner had four tackles with a tackle-for-loss and a quarterback hurry.