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Lapeer holds on to beat Lake Orion at Battle at the Big House III

By: Matt Mowery, August 23, 2018, 11:45 pm

ANN ARBOR — Last thing Mike Smith wanted to do was to have to send punter Cody Fick back out on the field against a Lake Orion special teams unit that was foaming at the mouth to come after another one.

The Dragons had just blocked one punt moments earlier, turning it into a touchdown to make Thursday’s Battle at the Big House nightcap into a two-score game.

So it was a big sigh of relief for the longtime Lapeer coach when quarterback Brady Apple hit H-back Kyle Sahr with a 26-yard pass in the flat to convert a third-and-15, allowing the Lightning to to the victory formation, and kneel out a 17-7 win over the Dragons.

“I’ve coached a long time, so even a 17-0 lead … no, you never feel comfortable. You’ve seen so many things happen. So it was nice to not have to punt it again, and close it out, kill it out,” Smith said. “You get an onside (kick) — and I’ve been in those games — and here we go.”

Lake Orion’s Matt Freeman blocked a punt with 3:24 to go, and five plays later, quarterback Blaze Lauer hit Mitchell Howell with an 8-yard laser up the seam to make it 17-7 with 2:20 left.

Lapeer recovered the onside kick, but the Lightning backed themselves up with a personal foul, setting up the third-and-15. Apple, who was an efficient 16-for-23 for 154 yards, hit Sahr in stride in the right flat, and the junior turned it upfield for the first down, effectively sealing the game.

Other than a few key breakdowns, the Lake Orion defense managed to keep Lapeer’s offense — and its biggest threat, 225-pound bowling ball running back Jalen Kirkland — relatively in check.

“It was a close game, tight game the whole way. They just executed better than we did. And that was the bottom line, execution. They ran the ball really well. Our defense was on the field all night. It just came down to execution,” Lake Orion coach John Blackstock said of his defense, which held Kirkland to 62 yards on 27 carries, or just 2.9 yards per tote. “Overall, they had a really good game-plan, they played really hard, but it’s just a couple plays here or there at this level, and that’s the difference.”

The Lightning converted a fourth-and-6 on their opening drive, turning a Lake Orion interception into a 27-yard field goal by Fick for a 3-0 lead, then executed again on a third-and-11 when Apple split a pair of defenders with a 27-yard touchdown toss to Bobby Opalewski. And they executed again on a fourth-and-1 from the Lake Orion 3, as Apple snuck it all the way in for a touchdown, just two plays into the fourth quarter.

“Yeah. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot with some penalties on offense, and we missed some things. We’ve gotta get Jay (Kirkland) going a little bit. Teams are going to focus on him, so we’ve gotta do other things well,” Smith said. “We’re kind of close, but we know we’ve gotta build on offense.”

The problem was, the Dragons just couldn’t put much together themselves, as the Lightning held the ball nearly twice as long throughout the game, and limited Lake Orion to just 2.1 yards per rush and 2.8 yards per play. The Dragons converted just four of 12 third down attempts and none of their four tries on fourth down, turning the ball over three times on interceptions, two of which were deflections.

Lake Orion’s most concerted drive came midway through the fourth, with the Dragons driving from their own 35 to Lapeer’s 22, before turning it over on downs.

“We did some really good things,” Smith said. “We played good defense all night, and then we give them the short field, and they got us. They’re a quality team.”

Both teams host league opponents next week, with Lapeer playing a crossover against Midland Dow, and Lake Orion hosting Oakland Activities Association Red foe Oxford.