FOOTBALL: Clarkston dashes past Lake Orion for third straight OAA-Red title
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BY DAN STICKRADT
CLARKSTON — Regardless of sport, it has been proven over time to be an extremely difficult task for a school to win three straight league titles in the OAA Red Division. Clarkston’s football team finished off the rare hat trick this season.
The state-ranked Wolves captured their third straight OAA-Red title, believed to be the first school to pull off the feat in football since the inception of the OAA in 1994, and captured its fourth league championship in five years overall by running past visiting rival Lake Orion, 49-28, Friday night in front of an overflow crowd.
Clarkston (7-1, 7-0) is now on a seven-game win streak and will host OAA White Division champion Southfield next Friday for the OAA-Red-White conference championship.
Senior Ian Eriksen, who has missed half of the season due to a foot injury, is now back to his old form, burning up the Dragons with 236 yards on 22 carries and six touchdowns — that total is one of the highest single-game totals in school and league history — to go along with two catches for 46 more yards.
Junior quarterback DJ Zezula also provided Lake Orion with additional nightmares by passing 12-for-20 for 169 yards and also rushed 10 times for 122 more yards and one touchdown for Clarkston, which amassed 540 yards of total offense. Caine Watlington had three catches for 54 yards for the Wolves.
“It’s quite an accomplishment winning three straight league titles in the OAA. There’s so many great football programs in the OAA,” said Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson.
Clarkston, which has a growing list of Division I and Division II college recruits, showcased why it was one of the favorites to win a state title. The Wolves’ 49 points is the highest point title in the series and Clarkston I now 7-3 in their last 10 meetings with the Dragons.
Lake Orion coach Chris Bell expected a wild affair, but was disappointed in his team’s inability to stay with the Wolves in the later stages of the contest. Clarkston outscored the Dragons 21-0 over the final 13:18 and picked off Lake Orion quarterback Connor Grant twice in the second half.
“They’ve got some great athletes, but we just did not play well defensively tonight," offered Lake Orion coach Chris Bell. "Offensively, we left some things out there and made some mistakes in pass protection. There were some turnovers. We knew that with our young defense, it would probably be a high scoring game and we’d have to keep pace with them.”
Locked in a 28-28 tie late in third quarter, Eriksen busted loose for a 24-yard touchdown burst with 1:18 left in the third quarter to give the Wolves a 35-28 advantage and a lead they would not relinquish.
"I think (Eriksen’s) run just kind of took the momentum they had right away from them," smiled Richardson. "Obviously, Ian had a great game, but D.J. Zezula just played outstanding, running the ball, throwing the ball. Our line did a great job (as well).”
After stalling Lake Orion out at the Clarkston 36 after a 14-play drive, Eriksen answered on the very next play, blazing a 64-yard trail for another score with 7:38 left for a 42-28 Wolves lead.
Eriksen collected his sixth rushing touchdown with 5:35 remaining in the contest, this time on a 41-yard sprint, to cap the scoring. Shane Hynes nailed all seven extra points for Clarkston.
“I’ve got to credit the O-Line for (my 282 total yards),” thanked Eriksen. “Those guys are great and do the job every time. I’m fortunate to have them to block for me and I just do the best that I can. We all work so hard to be able (to compete for league titles).”
Clarkston led 21-14 at the half and opened up a 28-14 lead with 9:21left in the third quarter on the by scoring on its first series of the second half. It took only seven plays for the Wolves to score, with Eriksen plunging home for 1 yard out for paydirt.
Lake Orion mounted a comeback by scoring on two consecutive drives. The first saw Chris Leigh scamper into the end zone following a 44-yard run with 7:44left in the third quarter.
The Dragons surprised Clarkston by recovering the onside kick attempt and then followed with a seven-play drive that was culminated by another touchdown run by Leigh, this time a 15-yard run with 5:21 remaining in the third quarter.
Clarkston forced the Dragons over on downs and recorded interceptions, both by Reid Kaminski, on Lake Orion’s next three series.
On its second series of the game, Clarkston ventured 63 yards over 11 plays which was capped by Eriksen’s 1-yard run just 2:17 into the contest.
Leigh fought for a 14-yard TD catch from Connor Grant with 43 ticks left in the first quarter to even the score for Lake Orion.
Eriksen answered for Clarkston by barreling his way to a 7-yard TD run with 9:59 left in second quarter for a 14-7 lead, while Zezula pushed the advantage with 5:12 remaining in the first half when he dove into the end zone from 1 yard away.
Lake Orion cut the deficit down to 21-14 with 45 seconds left when Corey Ester hauled in a 15-yard pass from Grant.
A senior, Grant finished 14-for-21 passing for 148 yards and two touchdown passes, while Leigh rushed for 89 yards on 11 carries and had two catches for 16 yards and three total touchdowns for Lake Orion. Ester added 74 yards on seven carries and contributed four catches for 41 yards for the Dragons.