By Joe St. Henry
Review Sports Contributor
A pair of fourth quarter Lake Orion touchdowns broke open a close football game and propelled the Dragons to a 20-12 upset over Southfield A&T on Friday.
The go-ahead points came on a 20-yard touchdown pass on fourth down from junior quarterback Blaze Lauer to classmate Mitch Howell. Lauer then finished the scoring by running for a 15-yard touchdown with about three minutes left in the game.
Lake Orion’s defense set the tone all night for the Dragons, with three fourth down stops to thwart the Warriors and shift the game’s momentum at key points in the game.
Southfield A&T was limited to 229 total yards and only ten first downs. The Dragons did not allow a third down conversion the entire game, stopping the Warriors nine times.
“Our defense, especially on third and fourth downs, was the difference,” said Head Coach John Blackstock. “Even when things weren’t going our way, our kids stuck together and made the plays when they had to.”
The Dragon offense finished with 347 total yards, including 295 on the ground, led by junior Kobe Manzo’s 97 yards on 12 carries.
Junior Marlon Robinson finished with 65 yards and senior Jack DeBrincat ran for 61 yards.
“Our running game may not always be pretty, but we pound and pound the ball and then rip off a big play,” Blackstock said. “I guess it’s our identity.”
Lake Orion evened its record to 3-3 (3-2 OAA Red), keeping its state playoff hopes alive with three games to go in the season.
“Both teams played a very physical game,” Blackstock said. “Like two heavyweights taking body shots. It was great to see the kids grind it out and get rewarded with a victory.”
The two teams traded scores in the first quarter. Southfield A&T struck first on an 18-yard touchdown pass, but missed the extra point try.
Lake Orion responded with an 80-yard, 11 play drive, capped by Lauer’s one-yard plunge into the end zone. The Dragons converted their extra point to take a 7-6 lead.
Both defenses tightened in the second quarter. Lake Orion stopped Southfield A&T twice deep in Dragon territory and went into half time with the one-point lead.
“Those fourth down stops were huge and kept us in the game, while our offense was struggling a bit at that point,” Blackstock said.
Junior linebacker Isaac Kinne led the defensive charge and played his best game as a Dragon, Blackstock said. He also noted the play of senior defensive back Marcus Brown and linebackers junior Casey Coltrin and senior Joshua Wuensch, who the coach said plays at a different level of speed.
The game’s momentum seemed to shift early in the third quarter, as the Warriors scored on their opening second half possession on a 36-yard touchdown run. The extra point was again missed, but Southfield A&T had the lead, 12-7.
Lake Orion did not generate much offense as the quarter wore on, but kept the Warriors at bay with punts that pinned Southfield A&T deep in its own end of the field on consecutive possessions. Once again, the defense stepped up with two key stops.
At the 4-minute mark of the third quarter, the Dragons took over at their own 31-yard line and drove 69 yards on ten plays, capped by Howell’s touchdown catch one minute into the last quarter.
Lauer’s elusiveness frustrated the Warrior defense all night. The quarterback converted a number of third downs to keep Lake Orion’s offense on the field. He finished with 38 yards rushing on 11 carries including the two touchdowns. Playing in the rain, Lauer was only 4-13 in the air for 52 yards, but one of the completions was the winning score.
“Blaze continued to make good decisions, especially when he was forced out of the pocket,” Blackstock said. “He just pulled the ball down and started running.”
This week, Lake Orion celebrates Homecoming against Bloomfield Hills. The Black Hawks lost last week to Clarkston and have a 1-5 (0-5 OAA Red) record.
“They have a great wide receiver, who is as good as any around,” Blackstock said. “He is a real playmaker.”
The head coach expects Bloomfield Hills to feature a lot of different offensive formations. It will be a challenge for the Dragons to line up defensively against them.
“We better be prepared for what they will be throwing at us,” Blackstock said.
A win would give the Dragons their first record above .500 in the Blackstock coaching era.