If Calvert Hall and Loyola had to play their annual Turkey Bowl football game on a sandlot field with just 45 people milling around, it would still be the knock-down, drag-out battle it has been for the last 91 years.
Rivalries like this don't wither because the venue is smaller or the league adds a championship game on the previous weekend.
"It doesn't really matter," Cardinals coach Donald Davis said. "It's still Calvert Hall-Loyola."
While maintaining its Thanksgiving Day tradition, this year's Turkey Bowl has a couple new twists. Not only has the venue changed from M&T Bank Stadium to Johnny Unitas Stadium, because the Ravens' need their home field Thursday to play the San Francisco 49ers, but the game comes on the heels of the first ever Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship.
Friday night, the No. 2 Cardinals (9-2) suffered an excruciating 34-32 double-overtime title-game loss to No. 1 Gilman. Now they must bounce back quickly to face their biggest rival of all Thursday at 10 a.m.
The Dons (4-5) have no doubts that Calvert Hall will be ready, but they may be even more ready.
Loyola did not make the MIAA playoffs and has had three weeks to focus on Calvert Hall,while the Cardinals have had to prepare for and play two down-to-the-wire games including a 16-15 win over No. 7 McDonogh in the conference semifinals.
Who has the advantage — the team that kept up the physical battles and stayed sharp against two of its toughest opponents or the team that had three weeks to heal and to focus on a single opponent?
It depends on whether your favorite color is blue or red.
"I think [playing the last two weeks] might deter their focus from the Turkey Bowl a little bit," Loyola senior linebacker Taylor Janoskie said, "because they've had to focus on McDonogh and then on Gilman and they only have four or five days to prepare for us, so it's a huge opportunity for us to know everything that they're doing."
The Cardinals are pretty beaten up — physically and mentally — but senior running back C.J. Williams said it's not difficult to regroup for Loyola.
"After a loss like [Gilman], I think me and my team just want to get back on that field and redeem ourselves. It definitely helps playing Loyola, because who else would you want to play after that? This game is just big. Everyone looks forward to it. We circle it on the schedule. We're so ready to play this game. We don't need time to prepare. We already know what to expect."
After winning two Turkey Bowls in a row, including last year's 41-13 victory, the Cardinals will be favored again. Loyola, however, leads the series 48-35-8. All those numbers mean little when the teams take the field for the third oldest football rivalry in the area (behind 123 years of City-Poly and 96 years of Gilman-McDonogh).
Davis figures his team will have to play its best to beat the Dons, because he has no secrets left.
"They know exactly who we are," he said. "We've played as good a football as we can play over the last couple weeks. You couldn't really reserve anything or hold anything in the tank because you have to give your best to get by McDonogh and give yourself a chance against Gilman. We can't reinvent ourselves in five days. Loyola had three weeks to heal up, tweak some things, change the lineup, put in some new plays, so they could have a whole new wrinkle that gives us a great deal of difficulty."
Few teams have the chance to play again after a championship loss, so that gives Calvert Hall some added motivation. The Dons, of course, could make missing the playoffs a distant memory if they upset their rivals on Thursday.
"It means everything," Loyola senior running back Ryan Black said." It would save our season. We haven't had the best breaks in some of our games, but a win over Calvert Hall would be monumental to us and to our school too."
Loyola coach Brian Abbott is wary of Calvert Hall's speed and big-play potential. The Cardinals are versatile on offense, and senior All-Metro quarterback Thomas Stuart can make things happen in a hurry with his quick feet and accurate arm. The Dons have weapons too, and they have had three weeks to work on countering the Cardinals' strengths.
Janoskie said the pressure to win is evenly divided.
"Even tough they're coming off a tough loss and they see this as a must win, we've seen this as a must win from Day One coming into training camp," Janoskie said, " and we always have Calvert Hall in the back of our minds the whole season, so we'll be ready for them."
Considering the interest from students, faculty, fans and alumni from each school, don't expect the game to be any less intense — on the field or in the stands — because it's not in an NFL stadium.
Both teams will miss playing at M&T Bank Stadium. They've gone from a 69,000-seat venue to an 11,000-seat venue. But the coaches and players say the atmosphere at Johnny Unitas Statium could be more electric.
Cardinals senior defensive lineman Emmanuel Holder said his team could barely hear a thing on the field Friday night with 6,000 fans screaming during the MIAA championship, also at Towson. On Thursday morning, a sellout crowd is likely to pack Unitas Stadium. Last year's game drew 10,967 fans to M&T.
"Playing at M&T is definitely a great experience, playing where Ray Lewis plays, Ray Rice, all these great football players," Holder said. "But at the same time, when you play at Towson, the atmosphere is so much bigger, so much greater. It's the same amount of people but a smaller venue makes it seem like it's that much louder. It makes the game that much more fun."
92nd Turkey Bowl
No. 2 Calvert Hall (9-2) vs. Loyola (4-5)
When: Thursday, 10 a.m.
Where: Johnny Unitas Stadium, Towson University
Coaches: Donald Davis, Calvert Hall; Brian Abbott, Loyola
Last meeting: Calvert Hall won, 41-13, last season
Series: Loyola leads, 48-35-8
TV: Ch. 2
Key Players to Watch
Calvert Hall: RB-LB C.J. Williams, Sr. (605 yards rushing, 422 yards receiving, 9 TDs), WR-DB Trevor Williams, Sr. (89 caches for 1,057 yards, 15 TDs); QB Thomas Stuart, Sr. (2,368 yards passing for 31 TDs), DL Emmauel Holder, Sr. (78 tackles, 9 sacks); DB DaQuan Davis, Sr. (38 tackles, 4 INTs, 2 blocked FGs).
Loyola: LB Alex Hunt, Jr. (90 tackles, 3 fumble rec., 2 INT), QB Jake Clise, Jr. (98 for 178 passing for 1376 yards, 13 TDs; 608 yards rushing, 8TDs), RB Ryan Black, Sr. (956 total yards, 7 TDs), FS-WR Kacy Kapinos, Sr. (614 total yards, 4 TD’s; 63 Tackles, 3 INTs), SS Cole Boozer, Jr. (62 tackles, 2 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 1 fumble rec., 1 INT)