When the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference proposed a playoff for the first time, organizers knew there were several possibilities for awkward moments if archrivals Gilman and McDonogh or Loyola Blakefield and Calvert Hall were involved.
For instance, McDonogh, which came within a blocked field goal of beating Calvert Hall in a semifinal, could have played Gilman for the championship two weeks after the Greyhounds' and Eagles' traditional battle on the last day of the regular season.
And then there was always the thorny issue of working around the Turkey Bowl, the game which Calvert Hall and Loyola have staged for the past 92 Thanksgivings and were unwilling to sacrifice for a four-team playoff in a seven-team conference.
Because MIAA officials solved that problem by scheduling the championship game before Thanksgiving, at least, in theory, the problem was resolved.
In reality, though, after Calvert Hall lost to Gilman, 34-32, in a double-overtime championship classic Nov. 18, the Cardinals (10-2) will have to face hungry Loyola (4-5), which will have had nearly three weeks of preparation time by of the 10 a.m. kickoff at Johnny Unitas Stadium on Turkey Day.
And that could give the Dons a decided advantage in their attempt to finish the season with a .500 record and deny Calvert Hall a third straight victory in the series that began in 1920.
The pain of the Gilman loss — and the length of a game that began after 9 p.m. and ended nearly at midnight — could certainly have a residual effect on the Cardinals, although coach Donald Davis will do his level best to ensure his players are in the proper frame of mind.
"We knew it was going to be a challenge," he said. "We were either going to have to get their feet back on the ground (after beating Gilman) or pick them up and dust them off."
Davis said that the opportunity to play so quickly after such a stinging loss is a good thing.
"There's not many times you get the chance to play again that quickly (after a tough defeat)," he said. "We have a lot of veteran senior leaders, and I think they'll be ready."
Led by quarterback Thomas Stuart, who has tossed 18 touchdown passes with only two interceptions in the past five games, Cardinal veterans Brandon Neverdon, CJ Williams, Trevor Williams and Garrett Keene will try to topple Loyola.
Junior quarterback Jake Clise and seniors Kacy Kapinos, Ryan Black, Deemer Class, Jordan Floyd, Jordan Horne and Jon Moran will attempt to rebut that notion for the Dons.
"We'll have to stay balanced," said Moran, a lineman. "We just have to keep pounding away and then try to make big plays."
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