By Joe St. Henry
Review Sports Contributor
Lake Orion’s fourth quarter comeback in the first game of the 2017 football season fell short and the Dragons lost to the Big Reds of Chippewa Valley last Thursday, 20-17.
It was Lake Orion’s fourth consecutive season-opening defeat to Chippewa Valley, a member of the Macomb Athletic Conference’s Red Division.
Missed opportunities doomed the Dragons. They led the Big Reds in total yards, passing, rushing and first downs, but failed to score twice in the first half after moving inside the Chippewa Valley ten-yard line. The team also amassed more than 100 yards in penalties.
“We learned a lot about ourselves in the first game,” said Head Coach John Blackstock. “We confirmed this group likes to play physical and play hard. But there are some things to improve. We must execute better and play smarter during certain situations.”
The game did not start well for Lake Orion. The Dragons started on offense, but had their first punt of the season blocked. Chippewa Valley took over on Lake Orion’s 18-yard line and scored three plays later on a seven-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
Lake Orion’s offense responded by mounting a long drive capped by senior Parker Blust’s 24-yard field goal toward the end of the quarter, which cut the lead to 7-3. The Dragon defense stiffened and Lake Orion’s offense moved the ball in the second quarter, but it was stopped twice deep in Chippewa Valley territory – the second drive just two yards from the end zone.
“We prepare for those situations, but you have to execute your assignments when you get in close during the game,” Blackstock said. “We’ll be working on those more.”
The Big Reds took control of the game late in the third quarter, scoring twice in a span of less than four minutes. The first three-yard rushing score was set up by a long pass play, while the second was spurred by a second blocked punt that led to a 20-yard scoring pass. At the end of three quarters, Chippewa Valley had a comfortable 20-3 lead.
Lake Orion’s offense finally got in gear later in the fourth quarter. After the Big Reds missed a field goal, senior running back Dylan Frank took a screen pass from sophomore quarterback Blaze Lauer, shed tacklers and ran 60 yards for the Dragons’ first touchdown of the season with five minutes left in the game.
Lake Orion took advantage of the momentum change. The Dragons stopped the Big Reds on their next possession and senior quarterback Johnny Marshall then took Lake Orion back down the field, capped by Frank’s second touchdown on a 15-yard run. He finished with 86 yards on the ground.
“Dylan played exactly the way we expected,” Blackstock said. “He worked very hard in the off-season and it shows. He is hard to bring down.”
Chippewa Valley tried to run out the clock, but its last drive stalled and Lake Orion took over the ball with 44 seconds left. The Dragons’ comeback ended, however, on an interception. The Big Reds escaped with a three-point win.
Blackstock was pleased with the overall play of his defensive unit, which only gave up 204 total yards. Lake Orion’s secondary, questioned by some going into the season, played well, he said, with two pass deflections to thwart big plays for Chippewa Valley.
“I really couldn’t have asked for anything more from our defense,” Blackstock said. “They had a good game plan and executed it like we expected.”
Blackstock was quick to point out there is no such thing as a moral victory. “Nobody was pleased with the loss. But I was proud of the fact that we kept fighting. We had our chances and went toe-to-toe with them until the end.”
This week, the Dragons host their first home game versus the Highlanders of Rochester Adams, which moved up to the OAA Red Division this season. Game time is 7 p.m. on Thursday. Adams opened the season with a rout of Rochester, 38-6.
“Adams will be another tough opponent,” Blackstock said. “They have a strong, aggressive defense and run the ball extremely well, which sets up an effective passing game. It should be another classic Lake Orion versus Adams football game.”