By Joe St. Henry
Review Sports Contributor
Lake Orion battled Southfield to a draw at halftime of last Friday’s football game but, as they have all season, penalties haunted the Dragons and they ultimately fell to the Warriors, 24-16.
Officials threw the yellow flag 17 times against Lake Orion for 105 yards in penalties. The infractions impacted both the Dragon offense and defense, with two touchdowns called back and other drives stalled. Lake Orion penalties also extended Southfield offensive series. (The refs were equal opportunists, flagging the Warriors 12 times for 75 yards.)
The loss dropped the Dragons’ record to 1-4 (1-3 OAA Red) on the season. Southfield improved to 3-2.
“There’s no question we need to play more disciplined on both offense and defense,” said Head Coach John Blackstock. “Unfortunately, penalties have cost us multiple games.
“We keep stressing the importance of listening to the snap counts and put the kids in situations during practice where they have to be disciplined. We’ve got to have the same discipline in games.”
Southfield got on the scoreboard first, when the Warriors mounted a long drive on their second offensive possession and moved inside the Dragon five-yard line. Lake Orion’s defense forced fourth down, but Southfield’s quarterback scampered in from five-yards out. A successful two-point conversion gave the Warriors an 8-0 lead after one quarter.
As they have all season, the Dragons showed resilience and moved the ball on the ground and in the air to set up the tying score. Lake Orion had a touchdown called back due to an illegal block, but on the next play sophomore quarterback Blaze Lauer dashed 18 yards to the end zone at the 7:50 mark of the second quarter. Lake Orion senior Jon Haggitt ran in the two-point conversion to knot the game at 8-8.
“The team and coaches are growing more confident in Blaze and his ability to make plays, both planned and when things break down,” Blackstock said. “He’s also growing more comfortable in the role as our quarterback.”
It did not take long for the Warriors to regain the lead, however, when a receiver put ten yards between him and the closest Dragon defender and caught a 39-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left before halftime. After another two-point conversion, Southfield led 16-8.
Lake Orion responded again, moving the ball 70 yards in four minutes – aided by two Southfield personal fouls – and scored on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Lauer to senior running back Tyler Vestrand. A two-point conversion run by sophomore receiver Drew VanHeck tied the game at 16 a piece going into halftime.
The head coach was not surprised with the Dragons’ first half effort. “This team has battled all season long,” Blackstock said. “They don’t look at the scoreboard or how much time is left and play with the same fight and desire on every play.”
Lake Orion’s offense could not take advantage of its momentum to start the second half and Southfield quickly seized it on its first possession of the third quarter. The Warriors scored on their second play – a 62-yard touchdown reception and successful conversion to jump back in front, 24-16.
Both teams’ defenses tightened during the remainder of the game, with offensive series bogged down in part by a slew of penalties on both sides of the ball. Lake Orion had a long touchdown run by Lauer – that seemingly tied the game – negated on a holding call in the fourth quarter.
The Dragon defense made an impressive stand late in the game inside their own five-yard line, giving Lake Orion one last chance to tie the game with about two minutes left. But an interception ended the drive and Southfield ran out the clock to escape with the win.
“I know it sounds like a broken record, but I have to praise the team’s effort and ability to fight through adversity,” Blackstock said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t always been able to come out on the winning end so far.”
Southfield held Lake Orion’s offense to 259 total yards, 222 on the ground. The Dragons’ rushing game was led by senior Taylor Dylan’s 115 yards on 16 carries. Vestrand finished with 35 yards rushing and the touchdown reception. The Warrior pass rush kept Lauer in check – he finished with four pass completions for 37 yards. Lake Orion’s defense limited Southfield to 309 total yards.
The schedule does not get any easier this week, with Lake Orion traveling to Bloomfield Hills for a Thursday night football game. Blackstock said the Dragons will face their best quarterback yet and an explosive wide receiver.
“Our biggest challenge will be to stop the Blackhawks passing game,” he said. “They make big plays and we have to play smart or we could get burned.”