Enterprise cornerback Marshawn Fitzpatrick (12) forces a fumble against Central-Phenix City. 

The Class 7A No. 8-ranked Enterprise Wildcats (4-1, 1-1) battled down to the wire with the No. 5-ranked Central-Phenix City Red Devils (5-0, 3-0) on Sept. 17 in a Class 3A, Region 2 battle but ultimately fell by a score of 36-27.

Coming into the game Enterprise head coach Rick Darlington and defensive coordinator Jed Kennedy said that their Wildcats had to force the explosive Central offense to drive on their defense to score points – to earn it – and that the Enterprise offense had to score points itself. If they did that, the coaches said, Enterprise would be in the game with a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Late in the fourth quarter, Enterprise had the ball trailing by 10 points with just over eight minutes to go.

The Enterprise offense marched down the field before getting bogged down on a fourth-and-12 from the Central 20-yard line. The Wildcats pulled out their trusty “statue of liberty” play in which junior running back Mykel Johnson raced 14 yards to pick up the first down. Two plays later, sophomore Amare Griffin scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 1:39 left in the game capping off the 14-play drive. Enterprise’s PAT failed but the Wildcats had still cut the Central lead to 30-27.

With just one timeout remaining, Enterprise was forced to attempt an onside kick. Special teams has been an issue for Enterprise this season and Darlington said coming in that it could end up costing them a game at some point. On the onside kick attempt, Central running back Romello Green snatched the ball out of the air off the first bounce and raced 50 yards for a touchdown that sealed the Red Devil win. Central led 36-27 after a failed two-point try and would hang on to that score to pick up a big region win.

Despite the frustrating finish and the disappointment of the loss, the Wildcat coaches and players did not look like a defeated team coming off the field at Wildcat Stadium.

“I think we played hard,” Darlington said. “We wanted to be in a fight in the fourth quarter with a chance to win and we were there.

“We didn’t quite make the plays when we needed to down the stretch and didn’t make some stops we needed to, but (Central) knows they were in a battle and that’s what we wanted. Sometimes you may lose the battle but you still want to win the war and we’ve got more region games – more battles – ahead. I’m proud of these guys and they didn’t back down and didn’t quit tonight. We were right there in the last minute of the game, and that’s really all you can ask for; a chance to win it in the end. We were never out of the fight.”

Central opened the game by marching down into Enterprise territory and scored on a 36-yard touchdown run by quarterback Caleb Nix with 9:59 left in the opening period to take an early 7-0 lead.

Enterprise responded by driving into Central territory but Griffin was stopped short on fourth-and-three stomping out a scoring opportunity. Central and Enterprise traded punts and then the Red Devils drove back into Enterprise territory.

The Wildcat defense stiffened, however, and forced a fourth-and-15 at the Enterprise 34-yard line. Nix faced pressure from a blitzing Enterprise defense and heaved a desperation throw into double coverage when cornerback Marshawn Fitzpatrick intercepted his pass.

As the second quarter began, the Enterprise offense continued to struggle and couldn’t put together first downs. After an Enterprise punt, Central drove down the field and ended a 9-play scoring drive with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Nix to Karmello English with 9:55 left in the first half to go up 14-0.

The Wildcat defense went three-and-out again and was forced to punt. The majority of the Enterprise and Central games in the past decade have resulted in lopsided Red Devil wins but this time Enterprise wasn’t ready to pack it in.

The Enterprise defense forced a Central punt and the Wildcats finally started stringing together some first downs on offense. As Enterprise drove into the Central red-zone, Johnson converted a third-and-short into an 18-yard touchdown run to cut Central’s lead to 14-7 with 5:56 left in the half.

Central drove right back down the field and Nix found English for a 16-yard touchdown pass with 5:03 left to put the Red Devils up 21-7.

The Wildcats drove down the field on a 10-play drive that Griffin capped off with a 5-yard run to cut Central’s lead to 21-14 with just 58 seconds to go. Central wasn’t ready to go into halftime, though.

The Red Devils showed just why their offense is considered one of the most explosive in the state as they drove down the field on a 7-play drive in under 50 seconds. Central kicker Charles Paul booted a 21-yard field goal with two seconds left in the half and would take that 24-14 lead into halftime. That field goal would loom large in the final score.

The Wildcats opened the second half with an 8-play scoring drive that Johnson finished off with a 1-yard touchdown run with 8:46 left in the third quarter. The PAT cut Central’s lead to 24-21.

Central then drove right down into Wildcat territory but the Enterprise defense stepped up and linebacker Brison Chatman recovered a Red Devil fumble and returned near midfield.

Unfortunately, the Enterprise offense went three-and-out and couldn’t cash in on the opportunity. Central then drove right back inside the Enterprise 10-yard line when Fitzpatrick stripped the ball from Central running back Jaimel Johnson and defensive tackle Jordan Liddell covered it up.

The Wildcat offense then drove into Central territory and was prepared to go for it on fourth-and-five from the Central 40 when an illegal shift pushed the Wildcats back five yards forcing a punt. The Enterprise defense forced three turnovers and the Wildcats were unable to turn either of those turnovers into points. Just like the Central field goal before halftime, that factor will surely weigh on the Enterprise players and coaches’ minds.

The fourth quarter began with Central stringing together an 11-play drive finished off by a 12-yard touchdown run from Green with 8:42 left in the game. Central missed the PAT, however, and the score remained 30-21 leading to the exciting finish.

“We didn’t turn the ball over again and I think the defense played really well,” Darlington said. “I think our problem was we started slow on offense and didn’t get much going (early) and we had missed tackles on defense, which was an issue.

“You have to have great tackling in the open field and it’s really hard to tackle those guys, they’re really good. I thought the defense played hard against some really talented dudes and we played well against them on crucial downs and got some turnovers. I’m just really proud of them and we have to keep getting better moving forward. We have to get better at not getting penalties on offense and tackling on defense.”

While the Wildcats are not looking for morale victories, the confidence that can be taken from this game is something that could play a part in fueling the remainder of the season and Darlington said the way Enterprise responds will be big in the weeks ahead.

“It depends on what we do with it,” Darlington said of that confidence. “If we go out there and play great for the rest of the season and it sets us on fire then great, but we have to see what it does for us and how we respond.”

The Enterprise offense amassed 293 yards of offense with 261 yards coming on the ground, while Central put up 433 yards of offense. The Enterprise defense held Central to 1-of-7 on third downs and 2-of-3 on fourth downs, while the Wildcat offense went 4-of-14 on third downs and 2-of-5 on fourth downs.

Enterprise’s offense was led by Johnson with 99 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries, while Griffin added 98 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Quarterback Quentin Hayes rushed for 60 yards on 15 carries and also completed 4-of-11 passes for 32 yards. Aiden White caught two passes for 34 yards.

The Wildcat defense was led by Fitzpatrick with eight tackles, one forced fumble and an interception, while linebacker Tysen Cole recorded seven tackles and a quarterback hurry. Linebacker Marzavious Reed chipped in with six tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one quarterback hurry and a forced fumble, while DJ Buckner earned six tackles, one tackle-for-loss and one quarterback hurry.

For Central, Nix completed 15-of-24 pass attempts for 185 yards, two touchdowns and an interception along with 69 yards and a touchdown rushing. Jackson rushed for 106 yards on 14 carries, while English caught seven passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns.

Enterprise will return to non-region play next week as Fort Walton Beach (Fla.) comes to Wildcat Stadium for Homecoming.

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