To Loyola coach Brian Abbott, the defining moment in yesterday's 85th annual Turkey Bowl wasn't a go-ahead touchdown or drive-ending sack. Rather, it was an uplifting moment provided by a fallen team member.
It came late in the first quarter of a tie game when defensive back Van Brooks - in the hospital since suffering a spinal cord injury during a game in September - emerged from an end-zone tunnel at M&T; Bank Stadium.
He was wheeled onto the Loyola sideline, bringing many in the crowd of 13,584 to their feet and sending an emotional charge through his teammates, who went on to score 14 straight points to take command in a 21-13 win.
"It just unified our team again, and that missing piece was there," said Abbott, who invited Brooks to deliver a surprise halftime pep talk. "He said, 'Get it going,' and the boys stepped up and did a great job, especially our line up front."
The offensive line constantly opened holes for all-purpose back Brady Smith, who ran for 97 yards and scored all three of his team's touchdowns, and running back Rob Utz, who gained 79 of his team-high 100 yards after the speech.
"I was right by the door when he came in," said Utz. "It was emotional. It was such a shock to see him there. He just looked like his old self. He was excited. We knew we were going to win at that point, because he was there and we were going to do it for him."
Calvert Hall (3-8) never found an answer for Smith, who scored all three of his touchdowns - from 15, 1 and 4 yards - after lining up at quarterback, the position at which he had started until an injury earlier this season. At 6 feet 2, 245 pounds, the senior time and again bullied his way through arm tackles and dragged defenders for extra yards.
"We've been trying to deal with him for four years," Calvert Hall coach Jay Robinson said of Smith, who has orally committed to the University of Connecticut.
"I'm glad he's graduating. He's just hard to deal with. They put him in different places in the offense, and inevitably when they need a couple tough yards, there's no doubt he's getting the ball."
The victory was the second straight for Loyola (10-1) over its rival, extending the Dons' all-time series lead to 44-33-8. For much of the game, however, it appeared as though Calvert Hall might be primed for an upset.
Led by the running of speedy back Mike Newton (14 carries, 148 yards), the Cardinals gained 321 yards of total offense, remaining within striking distance until late in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 7-0, Calvert Hall pulled even on its first possession when Newton took a pitch, rolled to his right and threw downfield to Josh Wagner, who beat his man for a 32-yard touchdown.
However, Calvert Hall also missed some prime scoring opportunities. With a chance to take the lead early in the second quarter, the Cardinals, who had ridden the running of Newton and Tywan Young to the Loyola 5-yard line, failed to score on three plays inside the 10 before missing a field-goal try wide right.
Then, after getting the ball on the Dons' 36 following a muffed punt early in the third quarter, Calvert Hall twice failed to pick up a yard for a first down on consecutive keepers by quarterback Andrew Robinson.
"We were just trying to mix our packages," said Jay Robinson. "We had a good plan for the red zone, but we just didn't execute a couple of times. Loyola made the plays."
L 7 7 0 7 - 21
CH 7 0 0 6 - 13
L-Smith 15 run (Small kick) CH-Wagner 32 pass from Newton (Rampolla kick) L-Smith 1 run (Small kick) L-Smith 4 run (Small kick) CH-Jones 1 pass from Robinson (kick failed)