Donald Davis recalls times during his 12 years as head coach of Calvert Hall when he had the luxury of meticulously game-planning for every aspect of his team’s annual season-ending showdown with archrival Loyola Blakefield.
This year, with just three practices to prepare for Thursday’s 99th Turkey Bowl at Towson University, the Cardinals coach has needed to keep things simple.
“It definitely changes things,” Davis said. “It obviously impacts our ability to go super-deep, in terms of our preparation. So our focus has got to be really on fundamentals and the big picture. I’ve had years where we’ve had 19 days [to prepare]. Now we have five.”
That’s because No. 2 Calvert Hall (11-1) advanced to the finals of the inaugural Maryland Christian Schools Invitational, rallying for a 35-21 win over Archbishop Spalding on Saturday. The tournament was the brainchild of Davis, who sought to give teams in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference the opportunity to compete for a championship after most elected to not play St. Frances prior to this season, ceding that title to the Panthers.
The tournament worked out well for the Cardinals, but also left them dangerously short on practice days for the Turkey Bowl. They held full practices Monday and Tuesday, and a walk-through on Wednesday.
By comparison, the Dons (6-3) will enter Thursday morning’s game on 13 days’ rest.
“It’s always tough to play two games in five days. There’s a reason why football games are a week apart, just because it’s physically taxing,” Loyola coach Anthony Zehyoue said. ”But they’re very deep, so if there’s any team that can handle this, it’s them. I’d be really nervous if we were doing it.”
On paper, Calvert Hall has nearly twice as many varsity players as Loyola, and will enter the game as a heavy favorite against the Dons, who have played an independent schedule after withdrawing from the MIAA A conference prior to this season.
But by no means does that mean the Dons can’t win it. In fact, they enter the day riding a three-game-winning streak, and now have their starting quarterback back in the mix following the return of Jeffrey Snider two weeks ago against Capital Christian, after the senior had missed seven games to injury.
While comfortable throwing from the pocket, Snider also is one of Loyola’s fastest players. According to Zehyoue, he’s also like another coach on the field.
“It’s great when you have a kid like him who takes less worry off your head,” Zehyoue said. “If a guy is lined up wrong, what’s great about Jeff is that he’s like, `Hey, hey, you need to move in. You’re on the ball, you’re off the ball. No, you’re running a slant, you’re running a dig, you’re running a vertical.’ Right as a coach is about to make that correction, it’s awesome when a player does it first.”
The Cardinals have been in a similar situation at quarterback for most of the season, after senior Mike Campbell tore ligaments in his left knee against Riverdale Baptist in mid-September. Following a shaky start, sophomore Amir Jenkins has stepped up to fill the void, giving Calvert Hall a formidable two-way threat that defenses must respect.
“The first game that I played was really rotten, but throughout the season me and my coaches and teammates just stuck to it,” Jenkins said. “We worked on my mechanics, my footwork and stuff like that, and it just got better throughout the season. At the beginning of the season, as a leader, I don’t think I was there. But now I’ve become a leader and maintained that role.”
Both Loyola and Calvert Hall know that a quick start will be crucial in such an emotional game, where the end result can make or break either team’s season.
“This is its own season, and that’s got an upside and downside,” Davis said. “It’s something so big and so important that the kids get to be a part of. But at the same time, if things don’t go our way … we could be in a situation where a lot of the very good that we’ve accomplished gets, in some respect, minimized.”