For wide receiver Chris Cooper, it was an instant that seemed to last forever. Flying down the sideline with five yards on his nearest defender just moments into Thursday's 97th Turkey Bowl, the speedy Calvert Hall junior knew he had a touchdown -- if only the ball ever came down.
"That ball was in the air for like years," Cooper said.
When the high-arching pass of quarterback Ben Brooks finally descended to Earth, Cooper had a 57-yard touchdown catch on just Calvert Hall's second play from scrimmage. The score set the tone for the Cardinals, who opened the game with 19 straight points before holding off a furious second-half rally by archrival Loyola Blakefield in a 40-21 win before an announced 8,340 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Calvert Hall (7-5, 2-4 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference) now has won seven of the past eight games in the series – the third longest in the Baltimore area behind only City-Poly and Gilman-McDonogh. Loyola (5-6, 0-6) still leads the all-time series, 49-40-8.
To Cardinals coach Donald Davis, the opening minutes played a huge emotional and physical role in a game that Calvert Hall went on to lead 33-7.
"I think it was the tempo. We came out and we were fast paced," Davis said. "Our offensive line established the line of scrimmage, our backs ran hard and our quarterback controlled the tempo. He controlled the offense, whether it was run or pass, checking out of certain plays. … He just did a really good job of executing our plan."
Brooks, a senior, threw for 204 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for another two scores, as the Cardinals racked up 409 yards of total offense. After beating Loyola, 6-0, a year ago, Brooks said it was important to strike quickly.
"It was huge," Brooks said. "We came out in a run play, so I wanted to check into something that really got the crowd and all the guys into it. I went to an outside go route. I just led it out there for him, and he made a great play on the ball."
Cooper said he suspected the play would work when he saw Dons top defensive back Kenny Lewis matched up with teammate Xavier Gravette on the other side.
"We realized we matched up well, and we felt like we should go at [the other defensive back]," Cooper said. "Ben took a chance on me, trusted me and allowed me to go get it."
It was eerily similar to a year ago, when the Cardinals scored the only touchdown on a 75-yard run on the game's second play.
Unlike that game, however, Calvert Hall continued to add points.
After Loyola's best drive of the game to that point ended with a dropped screen pass on fourth down at the Calvert Hall 20, the Cardinals embarked on an 11-play drive of their own, alternating carries between BJ Watson and Tim Smith. Watson then broke off a 20-yard run through the left side, setting up a 1-yard plunge by Brooks.
Then, a four-yard Loyola punt gave the Cardinals possession at the Dons' 35. Smith capped a nine-play drive with a one-yard run over the left side, extending the lead to 19-0 and threatening to turn the game into a blowout.
"You make mistakes and you're not able to get over those mistakes, or you don't take advantage of mistakes the other team makes, then you're not going to win the game," Dons coach Brant Hall said. "I think that's what happened today."
After holding the Cardinals to a three-and-out on their next possession, however, Loyola began to gain a bit of momentum, when freshman Ty Trinh returned a punt 55 yards to the 21. Three plays later, Dons quarterback Will Koras found Lewis for a six-yard score, cutting the lead to 19-7 just 3:02 before halftime.
Koras finished with 188 yards passing, two passing touchdowns and one rushing score.
But just as quickly as Loyola began to turn the tide, Calvert Hall turned it right back to start the second half.
After opening the third quarter with Watson playing quarterback in the Wildcat formation, on the second play of the half Watson handed off to Cooper, who took a sweep 43 yards for a touchdown.
Then, just two plays later, the Cardinals recovered a fumble near midfield, helping set the stage for Brooks' second 1-yard touchdown plunge of the game to extend the lead to 33-7.
But the Dons didn't quit, scoring on Koras' 5-yard keeper and recovering the ensuing onside kick when Jack Glock fell on the ball near the sideline. Though they failed to capitalize, the Dons regained possession on an interception by Lewis at the Calvert Hall 19, setting up Koras' 6-yard scoring pass to John Feola to make it a 12-point game.
Loyola again attempted an onside kick, but Jordan McLaughlin recovered, all but ending the comeback.
"When we throw the football to them, and then we lose an onside kick, it felt like we were on the field for a quarter and a half [straight] on defense," Davis said. "But our kids are not just physically tough but mentally tough."
For Hall, the loss was especially emotional, coming in his final game as head coach. Hall, who will stay on as Loyola's assistant athletic director, had spent nine years as an assistant before serving as head coach for the past five seasons.
"It still hasn't hit me. It will sink in at some point," said Hall, The Baltimore Sun's Offensive Player of the Year as a senior at Loyola in 1997. "I'm disappointed. I would've liked to have gone out with a win, but I really wanted to get this for our seniors."
Davis, who played against Hall in high school, called the moment "bittersweet."
"He's a great football coach and a great offensive mind," Davis said. "He's hard as hell to coach against, but at the same time I'm just going to miss being able to battle with him."
(at M&T Bank Stadium)
Loyola 0 7 7 7 -- 21
Calvert Hall 6 13 14 7-- 40
CH-Cooper 57 pass from Brooks (kick failed)
CH-Brooks 1 run (run failed)
CH-Smith 1 run (Kordenbrock kick)
L-Lewis 6 pass from Koras (McLaughlin kick)
CH-Cooper 43 run (Kordenbrock kick)
CH-Brooks 1 run (Kordenbrock kick)
L-Koras 5 run (McLaughlin kick)
L-Feola 6 pass from Koras (McLaughlin kick)
CH-McLaughlin 4 run (Kordenbrock kick)