Boys Varsity Football
Eisenhower and Lake Orion renew their football playoff rivalry at 7 p.m. Friday, this time with a Division 1 district championship at stake.
The Eagles have won seven games in a row after a 1-2 start.
Led by the stingiest defense in the MAC Red, they confront a Lake Orion team that is 9-1 and features quarterback Blaze Lauer and running back Kobe Manzo.
“We’re going to have our hands full,” Ike coach Chris Smith said.
“Our first impression of them is that they’re fast, with a lot of speed on the field. They have a very good quarterback that can run and a running back that is as tough as any we’ve seen this year.”
Lake Orion has won the last three postseason meetings, including the most recent one — a 10-7 district-championship victory in 2012, Smith’s first season as head coach.
Lake Orion won a regional championship when the teams met in 2010, and the Dragons prevailed in a pre-district game in 2008.
Eisenhower won a regional title game in 2001 on the way to a state final.
“It’s always fun to go up to Lake Orion,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
Eisenhower shut out Rochester Adams 24-0 in a pre-district game last week.
Meanwhile, the Dragons defeated Stoney Creek 21-14 for their first postseason victory since 2012.
Eisenhower has allowed 12.7 points per game, lowest in the MAC Red, where the Eagles finished second to Chippewa Valley.
Linemen Ian West and Mike Gardini and linebackers Anthony Cardamone and Mario Getaw are among the team’s standouts on defense.
“I think our defense likes to be on the field,” Smith said with a smile. “The more they’re on the field, the happier they are.
“They like to get after it, 11 guys jumping around and having a good time. They've been creating turnovers lately."
An offense that perked up after a slow start has helped the defense — and the entire team, Smith said.
“We were really young earlier in the year, and our offensive line wasn’t very good,” Smith said. ”We only had one returner back from last year.
“Our offensive line has gotten better and better every week. I think that’s the main reason for the turnaround.”
Mark Nikolla and Dylan Doherty are two of the Eagles' blockers to watch.
Eisenhower was shut out by Brother Rice in its opening game and scored 17 and 19 points in two of its next three contests.
But in the last six games, the Eagles have scored at least 21 points per game.
Better blocking has made quarterback Blake Rastigue more comfortable throwing to targets like Steven Nadolski, Smith said.
“Earlier in the season he was running for his life every play,” Smith said. “Now he can settle in there and make good passes.”
A more efficient offense “helps everything,” Smith added.
“It does take some pressure off the defense when the offense can move the ball and get some first downs,” Smith said.
The winner of the Ike-Lake Orion game plays either Davison or Lapeer in a regional championship game the weekend of Nov. 15-16.
“It’s a great time to coach,” Smith said. “It’s another week to practice together, to hang out together and enjoy what’s going on throughout the week.”
Eisenhower is looking for its third district crown in four years.