FOOTBALL: Clash of the titans: Top-ranked Clarkston rallies past No. 2 Lake Orion to clinch OAA-Red title
BY DAN STICKRADT
LAKE ORION — DJ Zezula surrendered his starting spot to Caine Watlington Friday night. The Clarkston sophomore quarterback more than made up for lost time in the fourth quarter against Lake Orion.
Zezula helped the Wolves put together a 22-play drive that spanned 9:48 and that drive was aided by his 37-yard pass play on first-and-38 down to the Dragons’ 15. The play helped Clarkston eventually score the go-ahead points with 14.3 seconds left in the Division 1 top-ranked Wolves’ thrilling, 21-14, victory over host Lake Orion in a battle of unbeatens.
Ian Erikson, one of the state’s leading rushers, scored on a 1-yard run — the only time Clarkston led all evening — and Zezula’s two-point conversion pass to Nathan Yeloshan sealed the deal for the Wolves.
The win secured Clarkston’s third OAA Red Division title in four years and sends the Wolves into next week’s OAA Red-White Championship game at Oak Park with a perfect 8-0 record and No. 1 ranking secured in all three major polls.
Zezula, who played sparingly in the game until the fourth quarter, had misfired on a similar play earlier in the half but his 37-yard throw saved the Wolves (8-0, 7-0).
“I knew the second time we would get it,” smiled Zezula, who was 1-for-2 passing. “Practice. We did it in practice, so I knew.”
Erikson finished the night with a workhorse effort, rushing 44 times for 174 yards and scored
“We knew we had to make a big play and luckily our guys made a big play,” said Erikson. “We did whatever we could.”
Veteran Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson said his team believed that they could come back from any deficit.
“This group — I don’t want to call them cocky — but they truly believed they could come back and beat them,” he said. “They were able to do it.”
Clarkston kept Lake Orion off the scoreboard in the second half and kept the Dragons’ offense off the field for most of the final two quarters. Lake Orion had just 48 yards in the second half and one drive leading up to the final 14.3 seconds.
Lake Orion could only gain 10 yards in the final seconds.
“I can’t remember ever doing that to someone. If it happened, I don’t remember,” added Richardson. “The defense did a great job in the second half.”
After scoreless first quarter, Lake Orion finally drew first blood when Jacob Miller scored on 9-yard run.
Clarkston’s Shane Hynes put the Wolves on the board when he booted a 38-yard field goal with 3:13 left in the half.
The Dragons (7-1, 6-1) upped the lead to 14-3 with 1:20 to go in the second quarter when Dominick Giovinazzo broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage and raced 35 yards for the score.
Clarkston was quick to answer when Erikson capped a quick four-play 65-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run just before the half.
Hynes’ 37-yard field goal 4:28 to go in the third quarter brought Clarkston to within 14-13 and set the stage for the Wolves’ ball control fourth quarter and late-game rally.
“We made a lot of mistakes at the wrong times,” sighed Lake Orion coach Chris Bell. “We gave up a long punt return at the wrong time, we gave had some penalties at the wrong time and we gave up that long pass play (in the final drive). We made mistakes and that was the difference. We’ll have to learn from these mistakes and get better.”
Miller finished with 84 yards on 21 carries for Lake Orion.
(Dan Stickradt is Senior Editor for Digital Daily www.northoaklandsports.com and The Real Deal sports and coupons magazine, as well as a freelance writer for multiple media outlets, including State Champs! High School Sports Show website. He is a 20-year veteran sports journalist based in Oakland County, Mich. He can be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @LocalSportsFans.)