By Joe St. Henry
Review Sports Contributor
It had been a while since Lake Orion’s football team claimed a signature win against a top team, but the Dragons ended that streak on Friday night, coming from behind in an exciting finish to beat the previously undefeated Rochester Adams Highlanders, 28-24.
The back-and-forth battle was decided when Lake Orion senior Jack DeBrincat plunged into the end zone from four yards out to give the Dragons the lead with 1:18 left in the game. After using their last timeout, the Highlanders moved the ball inside Dragon territory on their final drive, but Lake Orion’s defense sacked the quarterback on the game’s last play to run out the clock.
Lake Orion recovered two Adams’ fumbles, which the Dragons converted into touchdowns. The Highlanders also committed a number of penalties that slowed down their offense, especially in the first half. Their inability to convert on fourth down and less than a yard deep into the fourth quarter set up the Dragons’ 48-yard scoring drive that clinched the win.
The victory improved the Dragons’ record to 1-2 overall (1-1 OAA Red), while the Highlanders took their first loss of the season.
“I‘ve seen a lot of Lake Orion football games over the past 21 years and this is one I will never forget,” said Head Coach John Blackstock. “It was a total team effort, starting with the scout teams on offense and defense that really prepared us well during the week.
“We executed when it mattered the most – our critical positions came through.”
Adams struck first, putting together a long drive on its first possession of the game that ended with a one-yard touchdown run. That put the Highlanders up 7-0 with five minutes to go in the first quarter.
Lake Orion tied the game up, however, after the defense forced an Adams’ fumble at the Highlanders’ 37-yard line. Junior quarterback Blaze Lauer then connected with junior wide receiver Mitch Howell on a 25-yard scoring pass to tie the game after one quarter.
The Dragons forced a second Adams’ fumble early in the second quarter, which they recovered. Lake Orion then put together a 58-yard scoring drive, aided by an Adams’ personal foul and capped by Lauer’s second touchdown pass – this one a nine-yard strike to junior running back Kobe Manzo.
Neither team could do much offensively the rest of the quarter and Lake Orion went into the locker at halftime with a 14-7 lead.
“Taking advantage of those two turnovers was huge for us and really figured into how the game was played,” Blackstock said. “We talk about winning the turnover battle and we did.”
The Highlanders seemingly gained momentum early in the third quarter when they took the second half kickoff down the field and hit a 22-yard field goal to cut the Dragons’ lead to 14-10.
Lake Orion responded by building an 80-yard drive, which included a key fourth down conversion and 21-yard reception on third down and long. Lauer then tossed his third touchdown pass of the night, again to Manzo, to expand the Dragons’ lead to 21-10.
The tension in the air grew thick when Adams’ marched down the field to score on a 10-yard rushing play to get back to within four points, 21-17, with seconds left in the third quarter.
It would be an unforgettable fourth quarter. After a Lake Orion punt, the Highlanders’ took the lead, 24-21, on a 55-yard touchdown pass with 10 minutes left in the game.
The Dragons’ next possession stalled and they were forced to punt again halfway through the quarter. Lake Orion’s defense stood its ground, however. After giving up a couple first downs, it stopped Adams’ on fourth down and one yard to go. The Dragons took over near midfield with four minutes to go.
A key play on the game-winning drive was Lauer’s scramble around the end to convert a third down and set Lake Orion up inside the ten-yard line. DeBrincat then punched it in for the decisive score.
“It was great to see Jack score,” Blackstock said. “He worked really hard during the offseason and committed himself to getting stronger and faster.”
The Dragons finished with 197 total yards of offense. Lauer completed 11 of 17 passes, for 116 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
Lake Orion’s rushing attack was led by Manzo, who finished with 59 yards on 11 carries. He also had five receptions for 59 yards and the two scores.
“We were really happy with the improvements on offense, especially the line,” Blackstock said. “They’re starting to come together, firing off the ball and moving people around. We got key first downs, moved the chains and protected Blaze.”
This week, the Dragons host the Troy Athens Red Hawks, who are winless on the season, but Blackstock said they have played teams tough. He is wary of the team looking past this “trap” game.
“They look a lot like Oxford, which is no surprise, since their head coach was an assistant there,” he said. “We’re going to have to play well to win.”