For Loyola Blakefield receiver Noah Bull, it all happened in slow motion.
The 6-foot senior knew he had a chance to make the biggest play of his high school career with nine seconds left in Thursday’s 101st Turkey Bowl. And he wasn’t about to let quarterback Marcus Hines’ 15-yard floater hit the turf.
“It was like everything stopped for a second. Everything went quiet. All that was happening was me, the ball and him,” Bull said. “I thought, ‘I’ve just got to make this play.’”
With the game tied and time quickly waning, Bull turned as Hines released his high-arching pass, made an adjustment to his outside, leapt high in the air in the front corner of the end zone and reached to his right to haul in the game-winning touchdown pass over corner Nigel Henderson in a 41-35 win over No. 2 Calvert Hall before an announced 8,165 at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium.
It marked Loyola’s first win since 2013 in the venerable series — and only second in the past 12 meetings — as the Dons increased their series lead to 50-43-8. Until the first quarter, they hadn’t so much as taken a lead against their archrivals since 2014.
“The thing about a rivalry is you need to stop the bleeding,” Dons coach Anthony Zehyoue said. “If you don’t, then there’s another year of players who have the belief that we can’t beat Calvert Hall. That’s why this is so critical.”
That sense of urgency was only heightened following Saturday’s 14-3 loss to Concordia Prep — a team they had soundly beaten two weeks earlier — in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference championship game.
“We flushed it,” Hines said. “Saturday night after the game, once we left the field, we flushed it and got ready for this game.”
“All we had to do is focus on the next game, which was the Turkey Bowl,” Bull said. “Huge game, and we showed it. We showed we can hang with anybody.”
Loyola (9-3) certainly showed that to Calvert Hall (9-3), which on Saturday topped McDonogh to claim its first MIAA A Conference title since 2010. The Dons racked up 398 yards of total offense and 13 first downs on Thursday, scoring the game’s final 13 points.
“They’re a good team. They’re an A Conference team. They showed it today, and hopefully they’ll be joining us next year in the A Conference,” said Cardinal coach Josh Ward, adding that his team faced a major challenge in playing two marquee opponents on short rest. “Take a high school team [and] play two games in five days after winning a championship in the A Conference. That’s tough. That’s tough for anybody.”
That was apparent in the first quarter when Loyola — which had been outscored 53-0 in the first quarter on Thanksgiving dating to 2015 — burst out to a 13-0 lead in the first 6:45.
Following Micah Robinson’s 37-yard kickoff return to open the game, the Dons drove 59 yards on nine plays and scored when Jayden Moore took the ball on the reverse, then threw back to Hines, who was wide open on the left side for a 6-yard touchdown.
All told, Hines played a hand in four touchdowns, including running for a pair of 1-yarders in the second half.
The Dons then used a huge play on special teams to extend their lead. After stopping Calvert Hall on three straight plays deep in its own end, Loyola scored when junior Adam Gousse broke through the line to block the punt, and teammate Nathaniel Jackson recovered in the end zone to make it 13-0.
“We wanted to come out aggressive,” Zehyoue said. “We couldn’t come in here scared and hope to keep it a game. We came in here to win.”
After quickly finding itself in unfamiliar territory, however, Calvert Hall used the big play to get back into the game. The Cardinals, which had lost a total of 11 yards on their first six offensive plays, got on the board when quarterback Noah Brannock dropped back and fired deep, hitting wide receiver Rahkeem Smith in stride down the left side for a 71-yard touchdown.
But Loyola had an answer, thanks to Robinson.
Robinson, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior, started left, broke three tackles, then cut right and sprinted across the field for a 34-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 20-7.
After failing to score in the first quarter for five straight Turkey Bowls, Loyola put up 20 points in this one.
The remainder of the first half, however, belonged to Calvert Hall.
Despite three first-half sacks by Loyola defensive end Anto Saka, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior bound for Northwestern, the Cardinals closed the half with a pair of touchdowns, including a 14-yard run around the right side by junior Dawon Dorsey and a 20-yard run by Smith following a fumble on a sack by defensive lineman Corey Broome deep in Loyola’s own end.
“The thing I wanted to make sure our players knew is that we had to stay the course,” Zehyoue said. “I told them at halftime … so long as we don’t hurt ourselves, we will be fine. We just needed to stay the course. It’s great when you coach and you tell guys to do certain things and then they carry it out. That’s the joy in coaching.”
Tied at 28 early in the fourth quarter, Calvert Hall scored the go-ahead touchdown when Brannock (286 yards passing) found Smith open down the left side for a 43-yard score. Loyola, however, answered with a 12-play drive of its own, which included a pair of fourth-down conversions. The second, a 36-yard pass to Moore, set up Hines’ 1-yard drive to tie the game at 35.
The Dons then held the Cardinals to a three-and-out before getting the ball back with 1:25 left.
Hines worked his magic, extending the drive with third-down completions to tight end AJ Szymanski and Bull, setting up for the winning score.
“We wanted to take a shot if we could, but we had 15 seconds so we couldn’t be careless with the ball,” Zehyoue said. “So I told the quarterback, ‘Take a shot. If it’s not there, just throw it out of bounds,’ and then we’d line up and kick the field goal.”
Senior Conor backs had hit 13 field goals this season, with a long of 40.
On this drive, however, he wasn’t needed.
“It was electric. To beat our rivalry team… and to have the game-winning touchdown to win that game, you can’t ask for anything better,” Bull said. “It’s every kid’s dream to catch that game-winning touchdown, and I got that opportunity.”
Loyola 41, No. 2 Calvert Hall 35
Loyola: 20 0 8 13 — 41
Calvert Hall: 7 14 7 7 — 35
L-Hines 6 pass from Moore (kick failed)
L-Jackson 14 blocked punt recovery (Becks kick)
CH-Smith 71 pass from Brannock (Petrino kick)
L-Robinson 34 run (Becks kick)
CH-Dorsey 14 run (Petrino kick)
CH-Smith 20 run (Petrino kick)
CH-Lewis 53 run (Petrino kick)
L-Hines 1 run (Elliot pass from Hines)
CH-Smith 43 pass from Brannock (Petrino kick)
L-Hines 1 run (Becks kick)
L-Bull 15 pass from Hines (kick failed)