The Enterprise Wildcats (6-2, 2-2) held off a second-half comeback attempt from the Smiths Station Panthers (1-6, 0-4) on the road on Oct. 8 to pick up a pivotal Class 7A, Region 2 win by a score of 49-35.
After jumping out to a 35-7 lead in the first half, Enterprise seemed poised to go up 42-6 heading into the half but a rare Wildcat turnover gave Smiths Station new life. The Panthers cashed in on a 21-yard touchdown pass with just 15 seconds left in the half. A two-point conversion cut Enterprise’s lead to 35-14 at halftime.
“Right before the half we turned it over there and we never do that,” Enterprise coach Rick Darlington said. “We hoped maybe that wouldn’t be a big deal and it was a little bit of a momentum shift. We managed to stay ahead of them but you could feel that it was stressful. That’s what a turnover can do; we can’t turn the ball over.”
Enterprise’s defense dominated Smiths Station in the first half, holding the Panthers to just 86 yards of offense but that late touchdown started to swing the momentum. The Panther defense began to force Enterprise to punt in the third quarter and eventually Smiths Station scored on a 61-yard pass with 2:18 left in the period to cut Enterprise’s lead to 35-20. The two-point try failed.
Enterprise answered when quarterback Quentin Hayes hooked up with receiver Aiden White for a 52-yard gain that set up a 12-yard touchdown run from running back Amare Griffin with 1:40 left in the third quarter to extend Enterprise’s lead to 42-20.
The Panthers got right back into it the game in the fourth quarter on a 15-yard pass. A two-point conversion cut Enterprise’s lead to 42-28 with 11:28 to go in the game. The Panthers scored again on a 34-yard pass to further cut the lead to 42-35 with 6:42 left.
Enterprise made a slew of mistakes in the second half and were penalized 16 times for 137 yards and on the Wildcats’ next drive they were hit with three straight penalties to put Enterprise in a first-and-35 situation. That’s when the Wildcat offense decided to take over.
Hayes made a last-minute pitch on an option play that Griffin then took 28 yards to set up a second-and-seven. Hayes found White for a 31-yard completion on third down and then Mykel Johnson scored on a 12-yard run with 2:39 to stretch the lead back out to 49-35.
Smiths Station managed to drive right back into Enterprise territory, though, until sacks by Enterprise linebacker Marzavious Reed and nose tackle Jamel Fils-Aime, along with a penalty, put Smiths Station in a fourth-and-31 situation. A bobbled snap then led to defensive tackle DJ Buckner scooping it up and securing the region win.
Smiths Station started the game off with a bang returning the opening kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown, but the Wildcats then scored 35 unanswered points in the first half.
Johnson scored on a 9-yard run and then caught a 39-yard touchdown pass and an 11-yard touchdown pass from Hayes. In the second quarter, Johnson scored on a 4-yard run and Hayes scored on a 12-yard run.
For the game, Enterprise rolled up 481 yards of offense and Smiths Station totaled 343 yards with 321 of those yards coming in the passing game.
Hayes completed 9-of-14 pass attempts for 175 yards and two touchdowns along with 61 yards and a touchdown rushing.
“I thought (Hayes) was a magician running the option and throwing the ball tonight,” Darlington said of his quarterback. “He had some big plays in both the running and passing game.”
Johnson had a big night for the Wildcats with 228 all-purpose yards. He rushed for 106 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries and caught four passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned one punt for 23 yards and one kickoff return for 21 yards.
Griffin rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, while White caught three passes for 87 yards.
Reed led the Enterprise defense with six tackles, two tackles-for-loss and two sacks, while Brison Chatman totaled eight tackles and a quarterback hurry. Safety Eric Winters recorded seven tackles, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.
Enterprise is back at home for another crucial region game next week against Jeff Davis.