Calvert Hall football coach Donald Davis was concerned that a short week of practice after Saturday’s championship of the inaugural Maryland Christian Schools Invitational might put his team at a disadvantage in Thursday’s 99th Turkey Bowl.
He needn’t have worried.
Despite getting just three practices to prepare, the No. 2 Cardinals dominated from the start, taking advantage of three first-half turnovers to score the first 26 points in a 40-7 win over archrival Loyola Blakefield before an announced 7,822 at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium.
“It made it so I didn’t have too much time to goof it up,” Davis said. “Our kids are ever ready. They’re ready to play, and they have been all season long.”
“I came in a little banged up, but I didn’t let that stop me,” running back Sean Tucker said. “I just focused on the game.”
Calvert Hall (12-1) has won five straight and nine out of 10 in the series, which Loyola still leads, 49-42-8.
While Tucker gouged the Dons defense for 177 yards on 25 carries, sophomore quarterback Amir Jenkins finessed it with three touchdown passes to wide receiver Cole Herbert. The end result was the largest margin of victory by either team in the series since Loyola’s 35-point win in 2008, as well as the most lopsided Thanksgiving Day victory for the Cardinals since 1976.
“We had a ton of turnovers, and you can’t do that against a talented team like Calvert Hall. You can’t let that happen,” Loyola coach Anthony Zehyoue said. “You play from behind, and that’s not a good place to be.”
In the days leading up to the game, both coaches stressed the importance of a quick start.
On this day, Calvert Hall took those words to heart.
Thanks to a pair of early turnovers, the Cardinals amassed 145 yards before the Dons gained a single yard from scrimmage.
Riding the strong legs and sprinter's speed of Tucker, the Cardinals opened the game by driving 65 yards on seven plays, capped by Jenkins' 23-yard touchdown pass to a well-covered Herbert.
Then, on Loyola's first play from scrimmage, defensive back Ty Trinh stepped in front of Jeffrey Snider's pass intended for Keegan Pross at the Dons' 43-yard line. Ten plays later, running back Cobie Floyd scored up the middle from the 2, extending the lead to 13-0.
“We kept pushing the ball and had two good drives,” Jenkins said. “We just went to work.”
“I think that was huge,” Davis said. “Our defense barely played in the first quarter, so they had enough gas to really go late. When Loyola came and sort of surged, our guys were fresh. So for us to get up and be able to pad the lead, it allowed our defense and special teams to be more aggressive on the field.”
For Loyola, however, the horror wasn't quite done.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Cardinals' Duran Kelly recovered Kaire Umoja's fumble at the Loyola 37. Though Calvert Hall failed to tack onto its lead, the damage had been done. All told, the Cardinals ran 19 offensive plays before Loyola (6-4) could run its second.
Spending nearly all of its time on defense, Loyola needed until early in the second quarter to finally establish some rhythm on offense. Running back Micah Robinson ripped off runs of 13 and 19 yards to put the Dons into Calvert Hall territory.
The drive, however, came up short when wide receiver Jordan Moore — who had served as the team's starting quarterback during Snider's absence with a thumb injury for most of the season — was pushed out of bounds for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-8 at the Cardinals’ 26.
It would be Loyola's best scoring opportunity of the first half. The Cardinals took full advantage of the turnover on downs, putting together a 12-play drive of their own, running on the first 11 plays before Jenkins found Herbert in the front corner of the endzone.
“I knew Cole had one on one with the corner, and I knew he was going to beat him, because he can beat any corner,” Jenkins said. “I just told him to run a post, and he was wide open every single time.”
All three of Herbert’s catches on the day were touchdowns. And though he was forced to leave the game after his final score late in the third quarter with a left ankle injury, the damage had been done.
“Cole Herbert is arguably as good a wide receiver as there is in the area. Amir did a nice job of giving him opportunities to prove that he’s that kind of player,” Davis said. “Teams can’t really double him because we’ve got a great receiving corps and great running backs.”
“He’s my guy,” Jenkins said of Herbert, a junior who has committed to playing lacrosse at the University of North Carolina. “I keep feeding him the ball. We have a whole other season together, and we’re going to eat.”
The Cardinals later turned their third forced turnover of the half into another score, when defensive end Anthony Anderson sacked Snider and stripped the ball, and defensive back Tre Jordan recovered at the Loyola 18. Four plays later, Tucker, who ended the year just shy of 1,500 rushing yards, scored from the 1-yard line with five seconds left in the half, extending the lead to 26-0.
The Dons finally got on the board midway through the third quarter, when Snider found Moore for an 8-yard touchdown pass. By then, however, the game had long been decided.
Zehyoue, whose team played an independent schedule after withdrawing from the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference last offseason, said he hopes to put Loyola back on competitive footing with its rival in years to come.
“It’s a steady process,” Zehyoue said. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but this game is our measuring stick.”
99th Turkey Bowl
(at Towson University)
Loyola 0 0 7 0 — 7
Calvert Hall 13 13 7 7 — 40
CH — Herbert 23 pass from Jenkins (kick failed)
CH — Floyd 2 run (Moore kick)
CH — Herbert 10 pass from Jenkins (Run failed)
CH — Tucker 1 run (Moore kick)
L — Moore 8 pass from Snider (Sanders kick)
CH — Herbert 25 from Jenkins (Moore kick)
CH — Marchineck 38 pass from Ketchen (O'Neill kick)