By Joe St. Henry
Review Sports Writer
Lake Orion’s return to the MHSAA football playoffs was short lived, with the Dragons falling to the Romeo Bulldogs in a hard-fought first round game last Friday, 14-3.
Like much of the regular season, Lake Orion was haunted by turnovers, penalties and other mistakes against the defending state champs.
The Dragons failed to score points after moving inside the Bulldog 20-yard line three times, which doomed their chances of advancing.
“The game played out pretty much exactly the way we expected,” said Head Coach Chris Bell. “Two tough teams going at each other. They put together two drives and made some key plays. We struggled in the red zone. That was the difference in the game.”
Neither team scored in a quick first quarter. Lake Orion grabbed the lead early in the second when senior kicker Parker Blust capped a 67-yard drive by booting a 39-yard field goal. On the following possession, Romeo worked its way down the field before the Bulldogs scored on a short touchdown plunge.
The Dragons got the ball back with three minutes to go before the half and moved the ball deep into Bulldog territory. Unfortunately, an incomplete pass in the end zone on third down, coupled with a holding penalty on the same play stymied the offense.
On the next play, Lake Orion threw an interception in the end zone. At the break, Romeo held on to a 7-3 lead.
A Romeo fumble recovery on the second play of the third quarter gave the Bulldogs the ball in Lake Orion territory, but the Dragon defense held to keep the game close.
As the quarter wound down, Lake Orion put together another long drive and got inside the Bulldog ten-yard line.
With momentum seemingly in their favor to start the final quarter, they decided to go for a first down on fourth down-and-three, but Lake Orion’s quarterback was sacked.
Romeo then put together another long touchdown drive, aided by the Dragon defense that jumped offside twice to keep the Bulldogs offense on the field.
Down 14-3, Lake Orion moved the ball down the field yet again inside the Romeo 20.
The Dragon offense was thwarted, however, when they decided to attempt a field goal rather than go for it on fourth-and-one and the kick was missed.
Romeo then ran out the clock to end the game and Lake Orion’s season.
While disappointed with the loss, Bell said his team played very hard and the defense, in particular, played a great game.
“Overall, I’m happy the way our defense played all season,” he said. “They gave us a chance to win every week.”
The good news, Bell said, is the bulk of the defense will be returning next year.
Offensively, the team should be solid, as well. One of the keys will be continual improvement at the quarterback position, he said, which will be addressed during the off-season and summer.
Looking back at the season just completed, Bell said Lake Orion may have lost in the first round of the playoffs, but the team still lived up to the expectations of the players and coaching staff.
“After missing the playoffs the past two years, we challenged our seniors to return to doing things the right way in all phases and lead this team,” Bell said.
“They responded by being a steadying influence for our younger guys and acted as teachers.
“Everyone worked hard and we enjoyed some success this year. They were a heck of a lot of fun to coach.”
By Joe St. Henry