Neither team has had the season it had hoped. Both suffered some blowout losses due in part to injuries, tough schedules and inconsistent play.
However, when Calvert Hall and Loyola face off for their 73rd annual Thanksgiving Day football game at 10 a.m. at Towson State's Minnegan Stadium, neither expects the contest to lack intensity.
"I expect a tough, close game, with the luckiest team winning," said Calvert Hall coach Bill Mackley, whose Cardinals (5-4) upset No. 12 St. Mary's, 15-13, behind Steve Behnkin's 17-yard field goal two weeks ago.
Loyola (2-6) leads the series, 34-30-8, but Dons coach Joe Brune said the St. Mary's win gives the Cardinals an edge psychologically in a game to be witnessed by a sell-out crowd of 6,500.
"It [St. Mary's] was a big win for us, because these kids stuck together after losing four straight games," Mackley said. "But I'm not overlooking Loyola -- they played a tough schedule and we're very aware of that."
Performances against common foes won't shed any light for picking a favorite.
Cardinal Gibbons defeated Loyola, 39-0, but lost, 28-14, to Calvert Hall. Mount St. Joseph lost to Loyola, 18-13, but beat the Cardinals, 22-21. No. 2 McDonogh edged Loyola, 16-15, but trounced the Cardinals, 54-6.
"This is an intense rivalry that anyone can win," said Brune. "With the right kind of enthusiasm, we can hold our own."
The Dons, winners of last year's game, had one of the area's most difficult schedules with seven teams that were ranked at some point.
Loyola was 1-3 after beating Mount St. Joseph and losing to Gonzaga and DeMatha, each formerly ranked No. 1 in the Washington area, and St. John's, ranked as high as No. 4 in Washington.
The play of the Dons' most potent weapon, Reggie Boyce (580 yards, three touchdowns), was limited due to rib injuries. Loyola was 1-4 after losing to McDonogh, and even a subsequent 35-6 win over Severn couldn't rescue it from the doldrums.
"That loss took a lot out of us emotionally," said Brune, whose Dons have dropped their last three games, to St. Mary's, 17-7; No. 6 Gilman, 24-8; and Gibbons.
Brune hopes quarterback Brian Nichols and running backs Scott Brown, Matt Smith and Aaron Greene will carry his offense. But they'll need help from two-way linemen Faraji Mason and Rodell Phaire.
The Dons, however, must concern themselves with Calvert Hall running backs Kevin Tyler (1,111 yards, six touchdowns) and Mike Callahan (483, one touchdown), receiver Lance Askins (nine receptions, one touchdown) and quarterback Bunky Grinestaff (381 passing yards, four touchdowns).
"We've had some time to juggle things around and get back the confidence we lost," Brune said. "I don't think we're that far away now from the production we had against McDonogh."
Against McDonogh, Calvert Hall played without eight starters, but four injured players return tomorrow, including defensive tackle Pete Burmeister and defensive backs Donald Davis and Dennis Hopps.