By Joe St. Henry
Review Contributing Writer
Lake Orion’s varsity football team exemplified what the mantra “Orion Tough” means on both sides of the ball last Friday in an impressive victory over Southfield A&T, 21-14.
The upset win improved the Dragons’ record to 3-2 (3-1 OAA Red) and, more importantly, improved the team’s path to the state playoffs with four games left.
The Dragons running game was relentless against the Warriors, led by senior running back Chris Wilson’s 184 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Lake Orion took advantage of poor tackling to rush for a total of 257 yards, with junior Dylan Frank also breaking free for 36 yards and two scores.
“We were able to establish our running game early on and Southfield couldn’t adjust,” said Head Coach Chris Bell. “We have power runners. Put them behind an offensive line that is playing really well and it’s a tough combination to stop.”
Lake Orion’s defense was even more impressive against Southfield, coming up with big plays throughout the game to stop Warrior scoring opportunities. This included junior defensive back Johnathan Haggitt’s effort in the first quarter to catch up to a Southfield running back on a breakaway and swat the ball out of his hands, which was recovered by the Dragons.
Later in the first half, senior defensive back Joe Slayton, covering a Warrior receiver on a long pass play, kept him from cleanly catching the ball inside the Dragons’ five-yard line, thwarting another Southfield scoring chance.
In the second half, Lake Orion stopped two drives on fourth down, including the Warriors final pass into the end zone with less than two minutes to go that fell incomplete preserving the Dragons’ seven-point lead. For the game, Lake Orion limited Southfield to 13 first downs.
“Our defense really played well,” Bell said. “We played a great first half of football, which set us up for the second half. Our kids really played fast.”
Bell was particularly impressed with the play of senior linebacker Ryan Kolp, who was “all over the field and made several big hits” and Lake Orion’s defensive backs, who did not give up any big plays to Southfield’s talented receivers.
The Dragons’ jumped out to the early lead on their second offensive series, when they mounted a long drive and Frank punched the ball in to the end zone from one yard out. They added another score in the second quarter when the Dragons took advantage of a short field, thanks to Haggitt’s forced fumble, and Wilson broke multiple tackles for his 12-yard score.
After Southfield put together a quick scoring drive to close the gap to 14-6, the Dragons responded with their own, highlighted by Frank’s 21-yard scoring run through multiple tacklers that returned the game’s momentum back to Lake Orion at halftime.
“Dylan’s one of the strongest kids on the team,” Bell said. “He’s tough, loves to compete and fun to watch.”
The game became a contest of wills in the second half, with hard hitting punctuating every drive and both teams trying to pin the other deep in their own territories rather than take offensive chances.
Senior Taylor McCarty had another strong punting performance got Lake Orion, with five kicks averaging 40.8 net yards.
“Special teams can change a game,” Bell said. “When we’re backed up in our own end, they help us flip the field and gain field position. Taylor has bailed us out many times.”
Still, the game was not decided until the final minutes. After Southfield closed to within seven points on a 35-yard scoring run half-way through the fourth quarter, the Warriors stopped the Dragons and mounted another long drive, featuring a number of big runs, as the clock wound down.
The Dragons’ defense did not break, though, forcing the game’s decisive play – a fourth down at the Lake Orion three-yard line. When the pass hit the ground, the Dragons on and off the field celebrated. They ran out the clock and notched their third win in upset fashion.
Lake Orion’s stays on the road for Friday’s game against Troy Athens (1-4, 1-3 OAA Red), which lost to Clarkston last week. The Red Hawks may be struggling, but they beat the Dragons last season.
“Their quarterback is back and they gave us some problems last year defensively,” Bell said. “This game is very important for us. We have to continue to improve each week if we’re going to reach our goals of a league championship and a playoff spot.”
By Joe St. Henry