By Joe St. Henry
Review Sports Contributor
Lake Orion exorcised the demons of a frustrating football season with a dominating, season-ending 45-7 Homecoming game victory over Birmingham Seaholm last Friday.
As it has all season, the Dragons’ defense made big plays, stopping the Maples on two consecutive trips inside Lake Orion’s ten-yard line with the game tied in the second quarter. The offense then erupted for 35 points to start a running clock in the second half.
The Dragons amassed a season-high 437 total yards of offense, including 343 on the ground. Lake Orion’s defense held Seaholm to 273 yards and forced two turnovers.
The win delighted the raucous crowd and gave the Dragons a final record of 3-6 (2-5 OAA Red).
“We really didn’t expect the score to end up like it did,” said Head Coach John Blackstock. “But we got things firing, especially on offense. Our line opened up some big holes for our running backs and that opened up the passing game.”
The Dragons and Maples traded touchdowns in the first quarter. Lake Orion scored on its opening possession when senior running back Dylan Frank scored on a one-yard burst to put the Dragons up, 7-0. Less than a minute later, the Maples countered with a 27-yard touchdown run.
Lake Orion’s offense then stalled and the Maples moved down the field with a first and goal inside the Dragons’ five-yard line early in the second quarter. Seaholm could have seized control of the game, but Lake Orion’s defense had other plans and stopped the Maples on fourth down.
Two plays later, however, a Maple fumble recovery gave them a second chance inside Lake Orion’s ten-yard line. Could the Dragons make another stop? On fourth down, Dragon linebacker Tyler Vestrand answered by intercepting the Maple quarterback’s pass in the end zone and ran it back to the Dragon 18-yard line.
“Our defensive unit practices sudden changes like that all season long,” Blackstock said. “They were used to such situations and were prepared.
“It took a couple series to adjust to the speed of the veer offense that Seaholm runs. They got us early, but we adjusted and pretty much shut it down.”
The impressive defensive stand seemingly ignited the Dragon offense. Lake Orion scored three touchdowns in the last six minutes of the half, fueled by Frank touchdown runs of 47 and 85 yards, and capped by sophomore Kobe Manzo’s one-yard score with less than a minute left. The Dragons had a 28-7 lead at halftime.
The Maples only challenge during the rest of the contest came early in the third quarter, when they moved inside the Dragon 20-yard line. But Lake Orion’s defense tightened yet again, when senior linebacker Chris Kade intercepted another Maple pass to end the threat.
Frank finished his Lake Orion career on the next play by ripping another 85-yard run down the sideline, his fourth score of the game that put the Dragons up 35-7. He finished with 279 yards on 16 carries. For the season, Frank gained 952 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, plus three scoring receptions.
“At the beginning of the year, Dylan was dealing with a nagging ankle injury,” Blackstock said. “The last three games, his ankle felt better and he played a lot stronger with much more confidence.”
Later in the quarter, Manzo scored his second touchdown of the game on a 32-yard pass play from sophomore quarterback Blaze Lauer. That put Lake Orion up 42-7 and activated the running clock. Lauer finished the game 4-5 passing for 94 yards and the score.
The Dragons finished the scoring with a 33-yard field goal by senior Parker Blust late in the game. He finished with ten field goals on the season. Blust’s kicking game also included 24 kickoff touchbacks and an average of 35 net yards per punt.
While nobody is pleased with the team’s final record and missing the state playoffs, Blackstock was impressed with the Dragons’ commitment throughout the tough season.
“We lost a number of heartbreaking, close games,” he said. “Some kids would have quit, but they showed up each day, practiced hard and battled on Friday nights.
“Our coaching staff is very proud of this group. They brought back the “tough” in Orion Tough.”
The head coach also said the strong support of Lake Orion fans each week was definitely noticed by the coaches and players alike.
“The student section was loud all season, even at away games, and we fed off of them,” Blackstock said. “The team played hard for their fans and never gave up.”