October 09, 2013 - By Joe St. Henry
Special to The Review
As it has all season, Lake Orion's football team turned to a senior last Friday to lead the Dragons to another victory in their march to the state playoffs.
This time it was wide receiver Chris Leigh who led his team to the win over Rochester, 41-20, spoiling the Falcons' homecoming game. The Dragons' co-captain rushed for 144 yards and four touchdowns on eight carries. He also led the team with two kickoff returns for 37 yards.
Lake Orion controlled the game on the ground, rushing for a season-high 370 yards on 36 carries. In addition to Leigh, junior Matt Krause ran for 68 yards, while seniors Zach Arnold, Corey Ester and Dominick Giovinazzo rushed for 62, 53 and 32 yards, respectively.
"We did a much better job blocking on the perimeter and creating space for our guys with speed," Head Coach Chris Bell said. "It's a matter of taking what the defense gives us and Rochester gave us the advantage on the outside."
The win moved Lake Orion to 5-1 (4-1 OAA Red) for the season, one victory away from securing a spot in the playoffs. The Dragons play their own homecoming game this Friday versus Pontiac.
Against Rochester, Lake Orion established its running game early. On their opening drive, the Dragons covered 73 yards on eight consecutive runs, capped by Leigh's first score on a three-yard rush, to take the lead, 7-0. The Falcons struck back, however, completing a long pass on their first offensive play, en route to a touchdown drive of their own to tie the game, 7-7.
After a series of punts by both teams, Lake Orion struck quick on a one-play 76 yard drive in the second quarter, with Leigh sprinting to the end zone to give the Dragons a 13-7 advantage (extra point no good). Lake Orion senior Corey Ester then returned a Rochester punt 43 yards to set up a 21-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Connor Grant to senior wide receiver Josh Bays. The two-point conversion was no good, however, putting the Dragons up 19-7. Grant finished 3-6 in passing for 70 yards and the score.
Undaunted, Rochester mounted an 11-play, 80-yard drive in four minutes to cut Lake Orion's lead to 19-14. The Dragons, as they have at inopportune times this season, then turned the ball over at their own 26 yard line with 48 seconds left before halftime. Rochester took advantage of the miscue and kicked a field goal as time expired to cut Lake Orion's lead to 19-17.
"We have a very explosive offense, but also a very inconsistent offense at this point, which allows teams to hang close," Bell said.
Lake Orion's defense started the second half strong, forcing Rochester to punt from its own end zone on its first possession of the third quarter. The Dragons took over at the Falcons' 38 yard line and four plays later Leigh struck again on a 29 yard sprint to the end zone to give his team a 26-17 lead.
Rochester countered with a field goal to climb within seven points, but Lake Orion turned to its deep running attack to ground the Falcons for good. They scored on a six-play, 60 yard drive highlighted by junior Matt Krause's 42 yard rumble and Ester's three yard touchdown dash to stretch Lake Orion's lead to 34-20, less than a minute into the fourth quarter. Leigh finished the Dragons' scoring by dashing 17 yards for Lake Orion's final touchdown with 2:39 left.
Bell said Lake Orion's defense continues to improve, noting several players made big plays in the game and the secondary as a unit played much better in the second half. He pointed out the strong play of sophomore Jack McClear and seniors Brandon Gasche, Brad Check and Kyle Bell, in particular.
This week the Dragons play the Pontiac Phoenix before what is expected to be a large homecoming crowd. Pontiac (0-6) lost to Clarkston last week.
"They have some decent players and if we're sloppy or careless they will stay in the game," Bell said. "But I expect our team to play well. We haven't lost a homecoming game in at least 20 years."