By Joe St. Henry
Review Sports Contributor
Lake Orion, fueled by much improved play according to Head Coach John Blackstock, secured its first victory of the football season last Friday with a convincing win over Troy Athens, 26-6.
The Dragons used an effective passing attack to jump out to a big halftime lead, which they never relinquished.
The defense, meanwhile, came up with big plays throughout the game to thwart the Redhawks’ offense.
Lake Orion improved its record to 1-3 (1-2 OAA Red), with Southfield A&T visiting Dragon stadium this week for the annual Pink Out Game, supporting A Mother’s Wish.
“We stepped up in all phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams,” said Head Coach John Blackstock. “We worked hard during the week, especially our pass protection which helped our passing game overall.”
Unlike their first three games, the Dragons got on the scoreboard first against Troy Athens, with sophomore quarterback Blaze Lauer throwing a 28-yard scoring pass to senior receiver Pierce Burke to put Lake Orion on top 7-0, halfway through the first quarter.
The Dragons scored again on their next possession, when Lauer found senior tight end Casey Stironek in the back of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown reception that put the team up 14-0 after the first 12 minutes of the game.
The Redhawks offense moved the ball deep into Lake Orion territory early in the second quarter, but Dragon senior defensive back Chad Dolland intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it close to midfield. That ended the only real scoring threat for Troy Athens in the first half.
“That was a key play of the game,” Blackstock said. “They were driving on us and you could feel the momentum changing a bit. Chad made a nice read on the ball, stepped in front of the receiver and got the pick. You had to be impressed with the return, too.”
Lake Orion’s offense continued to move the ball and Lauer scored on a ten-yard run with three minutes left to put the Dragons up by three touchdowns, 21-0.
They capped their impressive half by taking advantage of a short field and timeouts to finish with a 34-yard field goal by senior Parker Blust that upped the lead to 24-0.
Both teams turned the ball over multiple times in the third quarter, with consecutive fumbles in three straight offensive series.
Lake Orion also intercepted the Troy Athens quarterback as the Redhawks tried to mount a comeback – Dolland’s second of the game.
The home team finally got on the scoreboard at the end of the quarter, when Troy Athens scored on a 26-yard touchdown catch. The two-point conversion failed, though, so the Dragons lead was 24-6 after three quarters.
“We got a little sloppy on offense in the third quarter,” Blackstock said. “We kept telling our guys to take a deep breath and keep your composure. Just execute and don’t look at the scoreboard.”
Lake Orion’s offense got back on track in the fourth quarter, but turned the ball over on downs inside the Troy Athens five-yard line late in the game.
The Dragon defense took advantage of the situation and put an exclamation point on its strong performance by sacking the Redhawks’ quarterback in their own end zone for a safety that closed out the scoring.
The Dragon defense only gave up 17 yards on the ground, finished with three interceptions and caused two fumbles.
“Our defense is playing well and it starts with our front seven,” Blackstock said. “We only gave up 17 yards rushing and that really made the Athens’ offense one dimensional. They had to throw to move the ball and we took advantage of that.”
Lake Orion’s offense generated 379 yards of total offense. Lauer finished 9-14 in the air, passing for two scores and running for another.
The Dragon rushing game accounted for 298 yards, led by senior Tyler Vestrand’s 68 yards on 10 carries.
The Dragons did fumble the ball four times, losing two, and the team committed 11 penalties. These mistakes cannot happen if Lake Orion wants to continue winning, Blackstock said.
“Penalties like personal fouls are self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “They just kill you. We’ll be working on those this week.”
On Friday, Lake Orion stays home to play Southfield A&T, which beat Oxford last week. They are 2-2 approaching the midpoint of the season. Their offense features a strong running game, an athletic quarterback and talented receiver, Blackstock said.
“It will be another challenge,” he said. “We’ll look at their schemes and try to create some confusion – give them different defensive looks to keep them guessing.”