By Joe St. Henry
Review Sports Contributor
Oxford made the big plays that Lake Orion could not, and the Wildcats earned a convincing 28-7 victory over the Dragons last Thursday in their annual rivalry matchup.
Lake Orion’s offense struggled for the second consecutive game, possessing the ball for only 15:37, less than half of the time Oxford was on the field.
The Wildcats put together three long scoring drives, featuring several key third and fourth down conversions. They also took advantage of Dragon defensive penalties.
The loss drops Lake Orion to 0-2 (0-1 OAA Red), while Oxford remains undefeated.
Head coach John Blackstock thought the team had a good week of practice, but they did not show it with improved play on the field.
“We’re close, but we’re not making the plays that need to be made in all phases of the game,” he said.
Blackstock admitted the team desperately needs a win to change its mood and improve everyone’s confidence.
On the second play from scrimmage, the Dragon defense recovered an apparent fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Oxford got a break, however, when the quarterback was ruled down before the ball came loose.
“That was unfortunate because we talk so much about coming out fast with a lot of energy and competing,” Blackstock said. “That would’ve been big.”
On Lake Orion’s first series, a botched punt gave the Wildcats the ball inside the Dragon ten-yard line. It took Oxford only two plays to score on a short rushing touchdown to go up 7-0 at the 2:13 mark of the first quarter.
Lake Orion struck back quick on its next series. After a short kickoff gave the Dragons the ball near midfield, Lake Orion moved into Oxford territory and senior slot back Matthew Freeman took a screen pass from quarterback Blaze Lauer 36 yards to the endzone to even the game at 7-7.
“He’s an explosive player with a lot of potential,” Blackstock said. “You try to get the ball in his hands, so he can make big plays.”
Both teams made impressive defensive stands early in the second quarter. Oxford moved the ball inside the Lake Orion 20-yard line but failed to convert on fourth down. The Wildcats returned the favor on the next series, stopping the Dragons on fourth down deep in Oxford territory.
Oxford then mounted a 14-play drive, highlighted by a 33-yard pass completion on third down and 31 yards-to-go. They took the lead with only 11 seconds left before half time on a 12-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-7.
Lake Orion grabbed some momentum early in the third quarter when the defense recovered a fumble on Oxford’s first possession and took over near midfield. The Dragons hurt themselves again, though, on the very next play when they lost the ball and the Wildcats recovered.
Oxford then mounted its second long scoring drive of the night, covering 57 yards in 13 plays and scoring on the ground from one-yard out. That gave the visiting team a commanding 21-7 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Oxford put an exclamation point on its performance with a 15-play drive that finished in the endzone, thanks to a nine-yard touchdown pass. That made the score 28-7. A couple of minutes later, the Wildcats sprinted off the field holding the Double O Trophy.
The Dragons finished with 214 yards of total offense on 44 plays.
Lauer led the team with 50 yards on the ground. He went 11-19 in the air for 119 yards and the touchdown.
Freeman had two catches for 38 yards, including the scoring reception. Senior Branden Robinson finished with three receptions for 31 yards and junior Mitch Howell caught two balls for 23 yards.
Blackstock knows the offense, particularly the running game, must improve if the Dragons are to notch their first win soon.
“We’ve got to keep working on the fundamentals,” he said. “That means improving our blocking techniques, running backs hitting the right holes and receivers blocking downfield.”
This week, Lake Orion travels to Rochester Adams on Friday night. Game time is 7 p.m. The Highlanders are 2-0 (1-0 OAA Red), after beating Bloomfield Hills last week.
Blackstock said Rochester Adams’ defense is very scrappy and “super” aggressive, featuring man-to-man coverage that enables them to blitz a lot.
“They bring it on every down,” he said. “We’ll have to be ready.”