BY JAKE LOURIM
TROY — Lake Orion was on the road Saturday for the state semifinals, so there was no PA announcer to call out, “That’s enough for another Lake Orion first down!”
So the fans did it themselves.
Every single time.
Thousands of fans made the half-hour trip down south, and many of them joined a sad scene on the field.
Derek DeLaura had a lot of hugs to hand out after the loss: players, coaches, parents from the community. After all, he had given them his best for 13 straight weeks. It was only fair they stand by him.
DeLaura was sobbing. Senior wide receiver Chaz Miller hid his tears with his helmet. Three other players sat on the bench with blank stares, silent.
Even head coach Chris Bell put his head down when he answered questions.
“It’s hard,” Bell said. “We had a chance to win, so it’s very hard.”
“This is my family,” DeLaura said. “I’m going to remember each and every one of them until I die.”
The entire city of Lake Orion is a family. Thousands of people filled the bleachers last week for the regional final, and just as many made the half-hour trip south to Athens to support the team again.
Not one of them gave up. Not when Detroit Cass Tech went ahead 21-7 on Jayru Campbell’s touchdown run. Not when Campbell threw to Jourdan Lewis for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Not even when the Dragons had the ball with 2:24 left and no time outs with 70 yards to go.
Football is life in Lake Orion, and the thousands of people who come to the games will be there in sunshine and in rain.
The Dragons win much more than they lose, but when they do lose, it hurts just as much. But that doesn’t stop anyone from coming.
“When you start looking up in the stands, you realize you’re playing for something more than yourself,” DeLaura said. “It’s pretty hard to let a fan base like that down.”
No, Derek, they weren’t let down. There were hundreds of people down on the field celebrating the regional title win last week. But there were just as many Saturday after the loss.
No one ever stopped believing.
“Looking up at the scoreboard when we’re down by a touchdown or less, the offense is so high-powered,” DeLaura said. “I had confidence we could put one in.”
Lake Orion, playing in its third Final Four in five years (2008, 2010 and 2012) and fourth since 1998, was so close, and that’s what made it extra painful. The Dragons missed an extra point after Corey Ester’s 66-yard touchdown run with 9:55 left, leaving them down one. Cass Tech added an insurance touchdown, so Lake Orion was down by seven with two minutes left. Cass Tech’s defense held, and the Dragons faithful filtered onto the field with the team.
“That’s why it hurts,” Bell said. “It’s always easier when the other team lines up and beats you because they’re better than you.”
Saturday was like last week: the final buzzer sounded, the teams shook hands and the players huddled up. But nobody wanted to go home.
Lake Orion football should be celebrated not because of the scene after a win but because the fans are still with them after a loss. Players come and leave and state championships sometimes come around, but the enthusiasm for the program is the one constant.
Not next week, not the week after, but next August, the thousands of green-bleeding, die-hard Lake Orion fans will gather under the Friday night lights, together again.
Not Jacob Miller, not DeLaura, but someone will trudge his legs through the pile and fall to the turf. That will be enough for another Lake Orion first down.
And that will be all that matters.
(Jake Lourim is a senior at Troy High School and a member of the S.H.P. Media Group / www.northoaklandsports.com Student Correspondence Program. He is publisher of website www.troycoltsportsupdate.com and a member of the Troy school newspaper editorial staff. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)