Calvert Hall coach Josh Ward didn’t call it, and Loyola Blakefield wasn’t expecting it.
Senior Ricardo Cooper, however, wasn’t about to let the moment pass for the Cardinals in the 102nd Turkey Bowl on Thursday.
Faced with a fourth-and-17 with 8:13 left in a tie game, Cooper — instead of regular punter Carter O’Connell — trotted out to seemingly punt the ball from his team’s own 1-yard line. Instead, he caught the snap and took off to his right, turning the corner and not stopping until he had sprinted 23 yards down the sideline.
The play kept Calvert Hall’s drive alive, setting the stage for Dylan Manna’s go-ahead 30-yard field goal with 1:34 left, as the No. 5 Cardinals held off a stiff challenge from Loyola Blakefield in a 17-14 win before an announced 8,529 at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium.
“We’ve been working on it since about Week 4. We call it ‘rugby punt,’ and it’s either a punt or a run,” Cooper said. “I told them before I got there, ‘I’m running this regardless. I don’t care how the blocking goes, I’m running regardless. I was looking at the sticks the whole time to see how far I was.”
“Coop is an electric athlete,” Ward said. “We tell him [in practice], ‘If you get the edge, take it.’ I didn’t call it — he ran it. Heck of a play by him.”
The win gave Calvert Hall (7-6) its seventh win in eight meetings and 11th out of 13 over Loyola, helping soften the sting of both last year’s stunning 41-35 loss to the Dons and Friday’s 34-10 loss to Archbishop Spalding in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champiionship game. The Cardinals still trail the all-time series, 50-44-8.
“Even though we lost the championship, we just took our anger out on them,” Cooper said. “Couldn’t lose this time.”
And yet, Loyola (4-6) came agonizingly close to pulling out another last-second miracle.
After getting the ball back at their own 13 with 1:27 to play, the Dons picked up 31 yards on a screen from sophomore quarterback Bradley Seiss to running back Kendrick Worthington, then another 19 on a pass to receiver Shane Elliott.
Loyola got to Calvert Hall’s 16, where — following attempts to Marcus Hines and Elliott in the end zone — it faced a 4th-and-1 with 11 seconds left.
Hoping to pick up the first down, Loyola called a running play, but Cardinals linebacker Duncan Kammar met Worthington running to the right and brought him down in the backfield, ending the comeback bid.
“The ending stunk,” Loyola coach Anthony Zehyoue said. “We were hoping to pick up a first down and take one more shot. It didn’t work out. … I’m so proud of our effort. It’s a crummy way to lose, but I’ll take the full responsibility for it. We did a great job just battling.”
Earlier, this one had looked one-sided for Calvert Hall.
The Cardinals got their first big break with 5:36 left in the first quarter when a shotgun snap sailed over the outstretched arms of Hines and defensive back DJ Ringgold recovered it along the sideline at the Dons’ 19.
Three plays later, running back Dawon Dorsey skirted up the middle for a touchdown.
The Cardinals had another scoring chance later in the quarter when Cooper intercepted Seiss’ high-arching pass into double-coverage down the sideline. This time, however, Calvert Hall couldn’t convert, driving to the 16 before Mann pulled his 33-yard field goal attempt wide left.
Loyola, which was outgained 120-34 in the first quarter, then used a break of its own when Andrew Duvall blocked O’Connell’s punt and recovered the ball at the 34. Seven plays later, Worthington took a direct snap out of the Wildcat formation and tied the game after battling his way into the end zone after being initially stopped short.
The Dons took the lead on their first possession of the second half, capping a 12-play drive with Seiss’ 14-yard pass to Elliott, who made the catch in the end zone after defensive back Byron Baldwin Jr. slipped on the turf.
But the Cardinals quickly responded. All-Metro quarterback Noah Brannock connected with Chris Hewitt for a 29-yard completion over the middle to move the ball into Dons territory. Moments later, he took the snap and began running to his right, then pulled up and threw a 29-yard strike down the right sideline to Oliver Redd to tie the game at 14.
The Cardinals gained 300 yards of total offense but time and again hurt their own cause as they finished with 87 yards in penalties.
Loyola had a chance to again take the lead early in the fourth quarter, driving to the Cardinals’ 26. But the Dons came up empty, as first defensive back Jermaine Anderson knocked away Seiss’ pass to Maryland-bound tight end AJ Szymanski, then Dons kicker Owen Scheihling came up short on a 43-yard field goal attempt.
Cooper’s heroics then set the stage for Manna, a senior who had made two field goals all season.
“I was very nervous with all the noise over there, but I was able to lock in and get the job done,” Manna said. “I knew I had to do it in order to win. … I’ll remember this for the rest of my life. I’ll sure brag about it, too.”
Calvert Hall — 7 0 7 3 — 17
Loyola Blakefield — 0 7 7 0 — 14
CH — Dorsey 5-yard run (Manna kick)
LB — Worthington 6-yard run (Scheihing kick)
LB — Elliott 14-yard pass from Seiss (Scheihing kick)
CH — Redd 29-yard pass from Brannock (Manna kick)
CH — Manna 30-yard field goal