By Joe St. Henry
Review Sports Writer
Lake Orion senior Joe Slayton has made big plays on defense all season, but none bigger than his blocked field goal on the last play in regulation against Birmingham Seaholm last Friday.
When the football deflected off Slayton’s airborne, outstretched arms and fluttered to the ground, the Dragons had forced overtime with the game tied 14-14. Lake Orion took advantage of the momentum swing and scored on its first play in overtime. The Dragons then recovered a Maple fumble on their second offensive snap in overtime to escape with a 21-14 win.
“Joe has been one of our MVPs all season,” said Head Coach Chris Bell. “He’s a smart, steady football player who has great anticipation and just makes plays.”
The win improved Lake Orion’s record to 5-2 (4-1 OAA Red) with the league title to be decided next week against rival Clarkston in Lake Orion’s homecoming game. The Wolves also have only one league loss after soundly beating West Bloomfield on Friday. Lake Orion is one win away from qualifying for the state playoffs.
The Maples actually outgained the Dragons in total offense by nearly 100 yards, outrushed Lake Orion, ran more plays, converted more third downs, were penalized less and possessed the ball longer, but Lake Orion still found a way to win.
Bell said the Dragons played a sloppy game offensively, making mistakes that stopped the team from putting the game away early. But it is games like these that test a team’s mental toughness, he said.
“You’re gonna have games like this,” Bell said. “It’s a sign of a good team when they have an off night and still figured out a way to win. We battled to the end.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Lake Orion jumped out to a two touchdown lead in the second when senior slot receiver Max Horneffer scored on runs of 13 and 27 yards. The first score was set up by a Slayton fumble recovery at midfield, giving the Dragons great field position.
Birmingham Seaholm cut the lead in half, however, on a long touchdown run with five minutes left in the second quarter. The Maples then intercepted the Dragons on a tipped pass with only minutes left before halftime, but Lake Orion’s defense and penalties kept Birmingham Seaholm out of field goal range. At the break, the Dragons led 14-7.
Neither team got close to the end zone again until the midway through the fourth quarter.
Aided by Dragon penalties, the Maples moved down the field and scored on a five-yard quarterback run to tie the game 14-14 with about six minutes left.
After stopping the Lake Orion offense and forcing a punt, Birmingham Seaholm took over with 2:30 left in the game and a chance to win. They moved downfield to set up a game winning field goal attempt with 10 seconds left.
Alas, the shock of Slayton’s blocked kick breathed new life into the Dragons. They wasted little time regaining the lead in overtime when junior running back Dylan Frank sprinted 10 yards into the end zone on the first play. Now the pressure was on Birmingham Seaholm to match the score. But on the Maples’ second overtime play, Dragon senior linebacker Ryan Kolp ended the game with a hit on the quarterback and fumble recovery. Lake Orion had escaped with a tough win.
“The blocked kick really energized our team – you could see it in their eyes,” Bell said. “Their mindset was: okay, now let’s go out and win this thing. Our team played with great urgency in overtime, even though it only lasted three plays.”
There should be no lack of motivation this week for the Dragons, who host the Clarkston Wolves with the league title on the line.
Bell said his team recognizes the challenge it will face but, considering there is no dominant team in the OAA Red this year, he says the Dragons have a shot at beating the Wolves for the first time in several years.
“We have to play fundamentally better to beat Clarkston,” Bell said. “Offensively, we have to execute and not make sloppy mistakes to keep the pressure off of our defense.
“Defensively, we can’t give up the big play. We have to shut down their running game and force them into long yardage situations.”
By Joe St. Henry