By Jim Newell
ORION TWP. — There are no easy games when it comes to Lake Orion taking on Oxford on the soccer pitch.
The Lake Orion varsity boys soccer team played well above their record when they faced the Wildcats on Wednesday, losing 1-0 in a fierce back-and-forth physical matchup between the cross-town rivals.
The loss dropped the Dragons’ record to 8-7 (3-2 OAA White) in the non-league matchup. Oxford, which competes in the OAA Red, climbed to 12-3-3 after wins over Lake Orion and then Rochester on Thursday.
Oxford coach Adam Bican’s squad came into the game after a 2-1 win over no. 1 ranked Clarkston the week before. That win moved the Wolves, who were no. 4 in the state, up to the no. 2 spot.
“Anytime we play Lake Orion the record books go out the window, obviously. Team records, everything gets tossed out because it’s a cross-town rivalry. Lake Orion played extremely well, very effective,” Bican said. “I thought we generated a lot of opportunities and we did not stop working hard. We picked our work rate up a little bit in the second half and I think that might have been a little bit of the difference.”
Lake Orion head coach Chris Corteg was pleased with the way his team played against one of the best teams in the state.
“We held our own. We’ve had difficulty with big, physical teams and they have five or six kids that are just good-sized athletes. In most games, unless you’re just overwhelmed by size and talent, each team is going to have their moments. We had a few two-three-four position type situations where we could have scored, but didn’t,” Corteg said.
During a back-and-forth first half, both teams managed several scoring chances but neither team was able to find the back of the net. The Lake Orion defensive lines, including junior Broden Janczarek, sophomore Joey Gayton, senior Calvin Maes, junior Matt Toffolo and sophomore Will Farmer, were able to blunt Oxford’s offensive pressure.
Fifteen minutes into the match, Lake Orion junior Matias Ballina-Loza nearly opened the scoring with a sliding attempt at a goal line cross from senior Drew Findstrom.
Also during the first half, Orion succumbed to key injuries. Sophomore goalkeeper Brendan Zale and sophomore Joey Gayton had to exit the game.
The first half ended with no score.
“I’m proud of our team. It was physical and tough but it was fair. And Oxford is very good,” Corteg said. “Tonight, defensively, I think this was our best game. They played pretty clean, pretty organized and disciplined, so that was great to see. And our goalkeeper, Ryan Bunn came in off the bench cold, after the injury, and did very, very well too. I was happy with our team. Good high school game.”
Lake Orion was able to find the back of the net with approximately 20 minutes remaining in the game, but the celebration was short-lived when the play was ruled offsides.
With 12:51 left in the game, Oxford’s Cooper Caufman rifled a shot from near the 18-yard line into the far side of the goal out of the reach of Lake Orion’s keeper to put the Wildcats up 1-0. That’s all the scoring it would take for a Wildcat victory.
“It’s a good lesson for us that you have to make the most of your opportunities early. It takes a little of the pressure off you, but a 1-0 win is a fantastic thing against Lake Orion at Lake Orion,” Bican said.
Some of the Oxford players had to play positions different from their normal positions and Bican said those players stepped up and filled their roles nicely.
“Coltrane Hudson went to the back line in place of Jay Cady, who’s been out with an injury. And Ryan Clark did a fantastic job in the holding center mid position. Normally he plays up top but he’s so versatile we can put him anywhere,” Bican said. “Nolan Mauser is a special goalie. It’s nice knowing that he’s back there. It’s his third year, he’s been on varsity every year, and he’s one of the best in the area that I know of so I’m really pleased with his play.”
Oxford faces a couple more tough teams in the remainder of the regular season before they can begin looking at a postseason run.
“We’d really like to win the OAA Red. We kind of hold our own destiny,” Bican said. “Next week we play Troy Athens in an OAA Red matchup and they are very good.”
Lake Orion was scheduled to play Farmington on Tuesday after press time. The Dragons’ next home game is 7 p.m. Oct. 9 against Warren De La Salle Collegiate.
Oxford’s next home game is 7 p.m. Thursday against Detroit U of D Jesuit.
Brian Kappler contributed to this report.
By Jim Newell