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FOOTBALL: Romeo delivers with canine-like ferocity, bumps off Lake Orion in playoff-opener

By: Scott Burnstein, November 2, 2013, 10:00 am

LAKE ORION – Embodying its mascot, Romeo gave a bulldog of an effort to kick-off the 2013 football playoffs, making numerous big plays on offense and defense to shock favored Lake Orion 24-21 on the road in a Division 1 district-opener Friday night.

Romeo improved to 6-4 with the win.

Owners of a three-game win-streak, the Bulldogs will face Clarkston (9-1) next week in the district finals hoping to raise the program’s first district-title trophy in 21 years.

While Romeo came into Friday’s affair the underdog, having earned an at-large bid to the postseason, Lake Orion (7-3) was the defending district-champ and many had already penciled the Dragons into next week’s district-title tilt versus arch-rival Clarkston.

As the old saying goes, ‘That’s why they play the game."

On Friday, Romeo was stretching the field at every opportunity and keeping Lake Orion on it’s heels throughout the majority of play, appearing more weathered world-beater than fresh-faced upstart.

The Pups were primed and growling from the word ‘Go.’

Bulldogs’ sophomore quarterback, Paul Hurley was electric in the pocket, routinely dissecting Lake Orion’s veteran secondary, converting several critical third-and-longs and running the team like a savvy vet.

Hurley completed 28-of-38 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. His 7-yard scoring-connection with senior tight end Blake Williams in the last minute of action propelled Romeo to the victory.

“I just stayed focused and knew we could wear them down if my line kept giving me time to throw, which to their credit they did all night long,” the young signal-caller said.

Senior wide receiver Mitch Pacitti couldn’t be stopped either. Pacitti, Hurley’s primary target in the Bulldogs’ passing attack, caught 13 balls for 140 yards and two touchdowns and was consistently getting most of his yardage after his catches.

“They compete so hard and they both have the kind of tireless and tenacious attitude you can’t teach, whether in a game, at practice or in the film room studying tape,” said Romeo co-head coach Jason Couch of his pass-catch duo.

Couch was fast to applaud the performance of his young field general, who assumed duties under center for the Bulldogs midway through the season after their senior starter (Zack Rizo) went down with an injury.

“Paul is a smart, tough football player and he’s leading the way for us right now,” Couch said. “He’s doing everything that’s being asked of him and more. On and off the field, he is a great kid and someone that has a really bright future.”

Defensively, Romeo caused six costly Dragons’ turnovers, including forcing and recovering a fumble in the final seconds to secure the upset.

Lake Orion departs the state tournament after notching its 13th-straight postseason appearance.

Dragons’ seniors Matt Krause (fullback), Corey Ester (slotback) and Chris Leigh (slotback) accounted for Lake Orion’s touchdowns Friday evening in the loss.

Krause scored on a 38-yard run up the middle at the 3:50 mark of the fourth quarter to provide the Dragons’ their last lead of the night at 21-17.

Ester caught a 15-yard touchdown from Lake Orion senior quarterback Connor Grant in the first half and Leigh ran in a 10-yard touchdown in the third quarter.