FOOTBALL: Lake Orion uses trickery to rally past Eisenhower for district crown
BY DAN STICKRADT
LAKE ORION — Championship-caliber teams often find ways to win when things aren’t necessarily going their way. Lake Orion faced a gut-check Friday night and were able to find another gear against the odds.
The Dragons used some patience and trickery and rallied back with a touchdown in the final three minutes and contest in posting a 10-7 victory over Utica Eisenhower in a Division 1 district final.
Lake Orion even shut down Utica Eisenhower for 47:45 of the contest and limited the Eagles to just 20 rushing yards and 55 passing yards.
Lake Orion, ranked third in the Associated Press Division 1 polls, moved to 10-1 and into next Friday’s regional finals at Lake Orion. The Dragons’ Elite Eight opponent will be Macomb Dakota next Friday with a regional title and berth in the Final Four on the line.
“We always preach four quarters of football,” offered Lake Orion coach Chris Bell. “We knew this would be a great game. We didn’t panic. We knew we had the players that can make plays and we saw that tonight.”
Down 7-3, Lake Orion put together an 11-play, 74-yard drive that featured a halfback option play and several different players coming through in the clutch. Eventually the drive ended on a fake hand-off to two running backs and quarterback Derek LeLaura ran around right untouched for a 4-yard scamper with 1:58 left in the contest.
Corey Ester’s halfback option toss for 32 yards to 6-foot-7 senior Chaz Miller down to the Eisenhower 31 gave the Dragons new life. Six plays later DeLaura came through with the go-ahead points.
“The way things were going, I thought we might try the (halfback option play),” said Ester, a key member of Lake Orion’s Division 1 state championship track and field team. “We put it in a practice and we knew we could do it. But this was the first time we ran it in a game.”
“It was a matter of giving the big guy a chance to go up and get it," said Bell of Miller. “You can’t coach 6-7. He’s a heck of an athlete. We gave him a chance to make a play and it was probably the biggest play of the game.
“It came from the guys upstairs,” continued Bell. “They are so fast, so we knew we had it (in the playbook). We kept it in our back pocket until we needed it.”
Eisenhower quarterback Joe Zerafa finished 10-for-14 passing for 55 yards, but his four misses came on the Eagles final four attempts in their final possession of the game. Lake Orion halted the Eagles on their own 16 with 1:21 left in the contest.
Eisenhower (7-4) opened the game with a quick strike, as Jay Miron returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for the score and led 7-0 with the game only 15 seconds old. The Eagles did not have as many yards the rest of the game and were kept scoreless the rest of the way.
Lake Orion finally got on the scoreboard when Jeremy King booted a 33-yard field goal with 1:04 left in the first half.
“Our defense played fantastic and kept us in the game. They gave us a chance,” praised Bell. “After giving up the touchdown in the first minute of the game, to shut down a team like Eisenhower says a lot about our defense.
Leading 7-3, Eisenhower’s Adam Figlan blocked a Lake Orion punt on the Dragons’ 16 with 3:54 left in the third quarter. The Eagles eventually turned the ball over on the Orion 12 without points two minutes later.
“We had a great opportunity and didn’t do anything with it. It was a missed opportunity and it may have cost us,” said first-year Eisenhower coach Chris Smith. “We knew this was going to be a tight game and when you have an opportunity in the red zone against a team like Lake Orion you have to capitalize on it.”
The Dragons had only 109 rushing yards and 92 passing yards on the night. DeLaura was 6-for-11 passing for 60 yards and Jacob Miller had 20 rushes for 51 yards, but lost 20 yards on the last play of the game purposely by running backwards. Chaz Miller had five catches for 81 receiving yards.
(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.)