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An old rivalry renewed: Oxford and Lake Orion square off on the gridiron for the first time since 1983

August 18, 2010 - For the Lake Orion Dragons, the 1983 varsity football season was two weeks too long.

That was the word, anyway, from a story written by then-editor Al Zawacky for the on Nov. 9, 1983 edition of The Lake Orion Review.

The Dragons went down in flames, not only in the last game of 1983, but the last game played in the decades-old Orion/Oxford rivalry.

High school football coaches Chris Bell, above, and Bud Rowley promise their respective teams will be ready for the August 27 gridiron season opener. Bell, a former player for Lake Orion took the Dragons to the state finals in 2010. Rowley has led the Wil
High school football coaches Chris Bell, above, and Bud Rowley promise their respective teams will be ready for the August 27 gridiron season opener. Bell, a former player for Lake Orion took the Dragons to the state finals in 2010. Rowley has led the Wildcats to 28 consecutive winning seasons. File photo (click for larger version)
Ready for revenge? The rivalry returns to the Dragons' lair in the first game of the season, Aug. 27, as Oxford once again joins the Oakland Athletic Association.

"I can't believe all the calls I'm getting for advance tickets," said Lake Orion Community Schools' Athletic Director Bill Reiss, who's been with the district since 1973. "It was always the biggest game of the year, and even overshadowed the Clarkston/Lake Orion rivalry. I'm excited to see it come back."

The Nov. 4, 1983 Oxford win was anything but typical for the Lake Orion/Oxford era, Reiss recalled. In fact, Lake Orion won 22 of 31 games played during those years, and tied three.

That gave Oxford just six wins.

The 1983 story in the Review goes like this:

"I think our kids finished the season two weeks before it was over," agreed (then) LOHS Coach Marty Malstin. "After they beat they beat Clarkston and got their league title patches, they lost their intensity."

Intensity. If Orion lacked it, Oxford had it, as the host Wildcats put the finishing touches on their finest season in 20 years.

But the contest was a lot closer one than the final score indicated.

The Wildcats held an uncomfortable 14-6 lead with just 6 minutes remaining when the fireworks went off in the form of three straight Oxford touchdowns.

Tim Scribner scored the lone Dragon TD on the 54-yard romp in the second quarter, when the Wildcats were on top 14-0.

"Some of our kids may not have thought of Oxford as much of a rivalry, when they've beaten us two of the last 20 or so," Malatin pointed out.

"I kept telling them that Oxford was a good team this year-and they did play well against us."

And, after that game, the Oxford Leader quoted OHS football coach Bud Rowley like this:

"They (Lake Orion) got a big, physical, tough group of kids -- kids who don't like Oxford."

Everyone's talking about it.

"Bud Rowley is such a colorful guy," Reiss said. "When we were in the same conference, he always liked to come around before a game and make these friendly, man-to-man wages. It was always a lot of fun to have him around, so it's good to have him back in our conference."

During a recent trip to visit his old friend, Reiss laid his eyes on something he hadn't seen in years.

The old division trophy.

"The thing ended up in a closet at Rowley's house," he said. "We'd like to put it back together and bring it out for that first game.

Rowley and the Wildcats hope to pull out another upset when they prowl into town Aug. 27, but as before, Lake Orion is the odds-on favorite.

Rowley doesn't care. He likes the idea of renewing the Lake Orion rivalry.

"The slate is clean," he said. "It doesn't matter what we did back them -- 1983 was a long time ago. It's twenty-ten. We're excited. They are excited. They still don't care for us and we still don't care for them. This is great for the communities. It's fun.

But while happy to renew the rivalry, Rowley respects what Lake Orion has accomplished on the gridiron under the leadership of Coach Chris Ball.

"Coach Bell has done nothing but great things at Lake Orion," he said. "They have outstanding athletes and a fine program."

The admiration is mutual.

"I expect a tough Oxford football team," Bell said. "Bud and his staff will do a great job getting his players ready to play. I have great respect for the Oxford program."

Last year, the Dragons (6-1, league, 7-3 overal) finished second in the Oakland Athletic Association (OAA) Red Divsion, behind Clarkston (7-0 and 12-1 overall). In its last Flint Metro League season, Oxford finished 5-4.

"I have known Bud for many years," Bell said. "When I was just starting out as a head coach, Bud was a mentor for me. We had several conversations about coaching our teams and I learned a lot from him."

Bell also pays close attention to Wildcat football because his nephew Corey Bell plays for Rowley.

"When they aren't playing us, I pull for them to win," he said.

Bell is a Dragon at heart, having played for and graduating from Lake Orion High School. He's coached the team since 1997. He knows his community.

"It is an exciting game because it brings back an old great rivalry," Bell said. "The community is very excited to see this game. Many remember how big this game used to be."

"This was Michigan/Ohio State," he continued. "We currently have a great rivalry game with Clarkston, but Lake Orion/Oxford is bigger because of the history. The only thing that would make it better is to move it back to game 9."

But Bell noted that "welcoming" Oxford back into the OAA isn't Lake Orion's concern.

"We're just getting ready to play our opener," he said. "In a rivalry game, bragging rights are always fun to play for. You won't hear us say too much about the game before hand. We like to let our play speak for itself. We will be ready on August 27."

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