November 06, 2013 - By Joe St. Henry
Special to The Review
Turnovers can take the bite out of a football team and Lake Orion was stung by six on Friday as the Dragons were upset by the Romeo Bulldogs in the first round of the state playoffs, 24-21.
Lake Orion fumbled the ball a half dozen times in the game, losing five, and also threw an interception. In addition, the Dragons committed five penalties for 50 yards, which stopped them on offense and extended Romeo drives.
The Dragons finished the season with a 7-3 record, while Romeo will play Clarkston in the district final.
"We can't turn the ball over six times and expect to win a playoff game," said Head Coach Chris Bell. "We didn't play fundamentally sound football. There's nobody to blame but ourselves."
Both teams played a sloppy first half. After trading turnovers on fumbles to open the game, Romeo took the early lead, 3-0, on a 27-yard field goal.
On their next drive, the Dragons moved the ball inside Bulldog territory, but turned over the ball again on another fumble. Romeo could not capitalize on Lake Orion's mistake, however, when its quarterback threw an interception to senior linebacker Connor Grant. The teams then traded punts to end the quarter.
The Dragons' slippery hands continued when the team lost its third fumble after driving to the Bulldog 35-yard line early in the second quarter. The defense forced another punt and Lake Orion finally mounted a scoring drive, capped by Grant's 14-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Corey Ester, to give the Dragons a 7-3 lead.
After yet another Bulldog punt, the Dragons seemed to be building momentum as halftime neared, but the team lost its fourth fumble of the game, giving Romeo the ball 33 yards from the end zone with 41 seconds before halftime. It took the Bulldogs only three plays to snatch the lead back, scoring on a touchdown pass with ten ticks left, taking a 10-7 lead at the break.
"Defensively, we were playing pretty well," Bell said. "We also were moving the ball on offense, so no adjustments were needed, other than telling the guys they had to protect the football."
Lake Orion, as it had many times during the season, came out strong in the third quarter. The Dragons put together a 73-yard drive on eight plays, finished by senior wide receiver Chris Leigh's nine-yard touchdown run, to put the home team up 14-10.
Late in the quarter, the Dragons appeared to be gaining control, but a tipped pass was intercepted by the Bulldogs at their own 37-yard line. Lake Orion senior Kyle Bell returned the favor, however, when he intercepted the Romeo quarterback to start the fourth quarter. But the ensuing Lake Orion drive stalled after a holding penalty. The Bulldogs then passed on six-of-seven plays, capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass to jump back on top, 17-14, with 6:26 left in the game.
It was gut check time for the offense and the Dragons responded by building an eight-play scoring drive, capped by junior Matt Krause's explosive 38-yard run to the end zone and a 21-17 Lake Orion lead with 3:50 left.
Alas, it was now up to the Dragon defense to stop the Bulldogs, but they did not hesitate to grab the momentum back – primarily through the air. Romeo marched down the field, covering 71 yards in ten plays, ending in a six-yard scoring pass to give the visitors a 24-21 lead with less than a minute to go in the game. Unfortunately, Lake Orion's season then came to a tough end when the team lost its sixth fumble of the game on its first play, with Romeo running out the clock.
"We needed one stop and the game was over," Bell said. "Unfortunately, we didn't get that stop."
The Dragons amassed 366 yards of total offense, led by Leigh's 103 and a touchdown on 16 carries. Junior Matt Krause ran the ball eight times for 67 yards, including a score.
Reflecting on the season, the head coach thought the Dragons had a solid campaign, highlighted by signature wins against rival Oxford and Oak Park. Bell added the team's three losses were disappointing, with Lake Orion being outplayed in each.
"We never seemed to hit on all cylinders," Bell said. "It was not for a lack of effort. We just had a hard time putting it all together on the field game in and game out."
Bell expects the significant playing time Lake Orion's underclassmen received this year will pay off next season. Indeed, the Dragons started five sophomores on defense and eight of eleven defensive starters will be returning. A number of offensive starters and contributors also are coming back.
"We're disappointed with losing in the first round of the playoffs," Bell said. "But you've just got to look forward to next season."