KDMC Sting Bowl Classic: Loyd Star scores last minute to beat Enterprise

Published 11:49 am Friday, August 25, 2023

You might not see a better high school football game this season in Copiah or Lincoln County than the first one played on Thursday night between Enterprise and Loyd Star at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

Loyd Star led 23-0 out of the gate of the annual KDMC Kickoff Classic before a second half comeback by EAC was capped by the Yellow Jackets going ahead 32-29 with 2 minutes and 54 seconds remaining in the game.

With 27.7 seconds left on the clock, freshman quarterback Philip Ross Spencer dropped back and lofted a high, arching pass towards the south endzone of Stone Stadium. 

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Loyd Star senior receiver Caleb Smith made a leaping catch that carried him across the goal line and in doing so gave the Hornets a thrilling 35-32 win over their county rivals from Enterprise.

“I just knew I had to make a play,” said Smith after the game. 

Smith wasn’t done making plays after his touchdown catch though as Enterprise quarterback Landon McNickles launched a long pass on the final possession of the game that nearly found the waiting arms of his wide receiver Daylan Barden. 

Barden had gotten behind the Loyd Star defense, but Smith made a recovery and dove with outstretched arms to tip the ball away for an incompletion.

Smith for Loyd Star and Barden for Enterprise and nearly every other player who saw action on both sides of the ball battled cramps at some point in the game, but the heat wasn’t as brutal as it’s been for the past few weeks after cloud cover moved over the stadium prior to kickoff.

“I don’t think I’ve ever sweated more in a game in my life,” said Smith as he shined with perspiration and the glow of a comeback win following the game.

The matchup was the debut of first year Loyd Star coach Adam Smith and his coaching staff that includes three Loyd Star alums in himself, John Smith, Dustin Sisco and former Loyd Star head coach Josh Thibodeaux.

The Hornets received the opening kickoff and after Caleb Smith returned it to midfield, the offense strung together an efficient 11-play drive to score the first points of the game.

Spencer put Loyd Star on the board with a 1-yard touchdown run and then pulled a quick toss on the conversion attempt to Cooper Creel as the Hornets led 8-0 with 6:43 remaining in the first quarter.

Jordyn Kees, a fellow freshman, got the start at quarterback for Loyd Star and his 15-yard touchdown run and subsequent 2-point conversion score put the Hornets up 16-0 with 8:37 remaining until halftime.

Kees scored again, this time from 2-yards out, to put the Hornets up 23-0 with 2:36 left in the second quarter as things looked bleak for Enterprise and coach Trey Woodard for nearly the entire first half.

Penalties, mostly of a pre-snap variety, dogged EAC in the first half. Prior to the final EAC possession of the second quarter, Loyd Star had run 33 plays compared to nine plays (two of which were punts) from Enterprise. 

Unofficially, the Yellow Jackets had 10 penalties in the first half.

A returning starter from last season, the 6-foot, 190-pound McNickles has the ability to extend plays with his feet and a penchant for escaping the grasp of diving defenders.

He did just that on the first Enterprise score of the game as McNickles danced around and then uncorked a fastball down the sideline that was caught and run in for a score by receiver Harley Moak from 36-yards out.

McNickles then punched in the 2-point conversion on a run and with 4.6 seconds left in the first half, Enterprise was finally able to make something positive happen in cutting the Loyd Star lead 23-8 at the break.

As can often happen, that little spark of momentum carried over to the second half as McNickles broke off a 44-yard run on the second play of the third quarter to get the EAC offense rolling. 

Junior halfback Ayden Arevalo got Enterprise down to the Loyd Star 1-yard line later in the drive and then McNickles punched it in from there to trim the Loyd Star advantage to 23-16 with 7:28 left in the third quarter.

Loyd Star, who only punted once in the game, went back to what had been working on its first possession of the third quarter. 

A steady diet of runs by Keyes, junior Omarion Clay and senior Braxton Williams produced a nine-play scoring drive for the Hornets.

Willliams sprinted in for a 38-yard touchdown run, but the PAT kick attempt was a bust as Loyd Star bumped its lead back out to 29-16 at the 2:54 mark of the third quarter.

A punt on the following drive by Enterprise was blocked by Clay and recovered by Parker Saterfield, but the Yellow Jackets got the ball right back when Loyd Star coughed up a fumble two plays later that was recovered by Enterprise junior Parker Harris.

McNickles then began to pick up big chunks of yardage on the ensuing drive as designed runs for him found creases in the Loyd Star defense.

Getting McNickles and Barden into space with the ball was a key for Woodard in his play calling and that plan worked when Barden scored from 18-yards out with 6:16 left in the game to make the score 29-24.

The kickoff after that score couldn’t have gone better for EAC as junior Pruitt Falvey botted the ball down near the goal line and the Yellow Jackets swarmed to make a tackle at the LS 12-yard line.

The Enterprise defense forced a 3-and-out that led to the first punt of the night for Loyd Star by senior Cooper Reid. 

Reid’s punt was downed near midfield and the Enterprise offense sputtered to begin the drive, but a roughing the passer penalty extended the possession and moved the Yellow Jackets down to the Loyd Star 23-yard line with 3:17 remaining in the game.

McNickles danced through the defense to the 4-yard line and then rushed it in one play later to give his team a 1-point lead, its first advantage of the game.

On the 2-point conversion attempt, McNickles scrambled and found his tight end Harris open in the endzone to put EAC ahead 32-29.

The Yellow Jacket fans occupying the visitor’s side of Stone Stadium were bathing their team in cheers as they could taste a second straight win over Loyd Star. EAC beat the Hornets 22-8 at home in 2020 in the last Sting Bowl and that win broke a 16-game winning streak for Loyd Star over the Yellow Jackets.

The game winning drive for Loyd Star began at their own 34-yard line and quickly moved to the Enterprise half of the field after three straight runs by Kees.

On his final carry of the night, Kees came down hard and had to be tended to by the trainers and medical personnel in attendance. 

Kees finished the night with 140 yards on 28 carries.

While they got Kees up and onto the bench, Adam Smith convened with Spencer, who’d not seen a snap since his scoring run on the first drive of the game.

On 4th-and-9 with 1:29 remaining, Spencer couldn’t find an open receiver and tossed up what looked like a desperation throw.

Caleb Smith, who’s played outfield in baseball and goalkeeper in soccer during his high school career, showed the instincts of a fielder covering a fly-ball when he came flying out of nowhere to grab that throw and extend the drive and game for Loyd Star.

Smith went down at the EAC 22-yard line as the clock ran with 65 seconds remaining in the game. 

Just before he made the game winning catch, Smith came over to the sideline and yelled at his coaches that he’d been wide open on the previous play.

“I let them know I’d been open on the post and I told PR (Philip Ross) to look that way again and to just throw it,” said Smith.

Adam Smith was a coach happy with the win as his team received a trophy from KDMC and Co-Lin following the game, but that joy was also somewhat tampered down by mistakes made in the second half.

“Always happy to get the win and I’m dang proud of the guys for how they battled back after Enterprise went up,” said Smith. “It would have been easy for them to quiet, but they kept battling. We’re still a young team in a lot of spots and you could see some of that in the second half. We made a mistake here and a mistake there and those started to snowball as Enterprise started to make plays. We’ve got a lot to work on and a lot to improve on before we play again next week.”

Caleb Smith is one of 11 seniors on the team. Another senior leader for the Hornets is offensive lineman Conner Cunningham. On the opening drive of the game, Cunningham scooped up a fumble and ran for 20 yards on a play that can only be described as a lineman’s dream.

Cunningham didn’t hesitate when asked about what he enjoyed the most about playing for the new Loyd Star coaching staff.

“The passion,” said Cunningham. “They’ve got a passion for our school and our team since they’re from here and they’ve really pushed us in workouts and in practices leading up to tonight. As a senior, I know we’ve got to play better next week against Wesson.”

The ecstasy of the Loyd Star fan base was matched by the agony of the Enterprise players that kneeled and listened as Woodard addressed them after the game.

Even after that huddle had finished, he went around to the individual players that were the most down, physically lifting some of them up off the artificial turf of Stone Stadium.

“We played about as bad of a first half as we could have played,” said Woodard. “On the positive side, we played a lot of kids tonight and showed that we’ve built up some depth. Credit to Loyd Star, they took it from us there at the end.”

Woodard has said that he thought McNickles has a chance to be one of the best quarterbacks in the MHSAA 1A ranks and in the second half, he looked that part as he finished the game with 127 yards passing on 7-of-17 completions while also gaining 80 yards on the ground via 16 carries.

Barden finished with three catches for 62 yards and two rushes for 32 yards and Arevalo picked up 55 yards on five rushes.

Junior linebacker Jamie Fulgham led the EAC defense with 13 tackles while Michael Magee and Payton Kyzar chipped in nine tackles apiece.

EAC will be on the road again next week as they travel to Ridgeland to face St. Andrew’s Episcopal. Woodard and his team make their home debut on Harry Cole Field when they host their neighbors from Bogue Chitto on Sept. 8.

2A Loyd Star will meet another rival, 3A Wesson, next week at home. The game will be played on W.E. “Sambo” Smith Field as construction continues at the new football complex at Loyd Star.