When Loyola Blakefield defensive lineman Evan Boozer suffered a dislocated right thumb on the second possession of last year’s Turkey Bowl, he wasn’t about to sit out the rest of the game no matter how much it hurt.
“First of all it was the Turkey Bowl, and you’re thinking, ‘I’m playing, no matter what,’ ” Boozer said of the annual rivalry football game against Calvert Hall. “Second of all, I remembered it was coach [Brant] Hall’s last game and I’ve known him forever. … He’s really been sort of a father figure to me and so I said to myself, ‘I’m not quitting on my team. I’m not quitting on him.’ ”
Calvert Hall lineman Grant Engle said he would have done the same thing.
Engle hasn’t had an injury like Boozer’s in the Turkey Bowl, but last summer and fall, he fought to come back from a broken bone in his left foot to play on Thanksgiving Day. As his rehabilitation after surgery carried into football season, he said, the Turkey Bowl had a lot to do with motivating him to get back on the field.
“It took four months to come back, but I was able to play the last three games,” said Engle, who broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. “It’s about just being part of the tradition. So many people have played in it. It’s fun to play on a college field or at M&T Bank [Stadium].”
Boozer and Engle are 100 percent healthy for Thursday’s 98th Turkey Bowl as the Dons (2-7) and the No. 10 Cardinals (6-5) kick off at 10 a.m. at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium.
Of course, a lot rides on this game. After last year’s 40-21 win, Engle and the rest of his class can graduate with a perfect record against the Dons if they win. Boozer and his class are determined to get the one victory that would make a rough season all but disappear behind the bragging rights.
Over the years, Calvert Hall coach Donald Davis, who played for the Cardinals, has seen players tough it out on the field and in preparation for the rivalry game.
“I think it’s just another testament to how important this game is to the combatants if you want to call them that, but also to the overall community,” Davis said. “The guys work their butts off to get themselves an opportunity to play in the game. A kid like Evan is just a warrior, a kid who gets banged up in the game but still wants to do everything he can for his team that he plays through an injury, which was an incredible feat last year.”
Davis added that “you never want to see guys go against good, sound medical advice or try to skirt medical advice,” as some players have had injuries that force them to sit out.
Others, including BJ Watson as a sophomore three years ago, work hard in rehab to come back for the game. Watson, now playing at Harvard, bounced back from an elbow injury to score a late touchdown that help rally the Cardinals from a 15-0 deficit to a 25-22 win.
Engle’s teammate Pipe Guerra bounced back after tearing the ACL and both meniscuses in his left knee during his sophomore football season. Guerra, a senior center, said it was tough even sitting out the JV rivalry game, but he was back last year for the varsity rivalry game.
“I’d watched older guys playing in the Turkey Bowl and I had always wanted to play there,” he said. “The fact that I was able to recover in a year and be able to play in the game was just awesome.”
None of them, however, has been through what Boozer did during last year’s game.
On the play when he got hurt, he said, he got tripped up by another lineman and the thumb drove straight into the ground.
“Coming out of the pile, I noticed my chin strap was messed up and I was trying to get it. I tried to press on it and didn’t feel like I could press on it, so I looked at my thumb and I go, ‘Oh, there’s a hump on my hand. I think I should push it,’ so I pressed it down and I just felt the jolt go back through my hand. I thought, ‘Oh, you’ve got to play.’ ”
Dons linebacker Taylor Randolph had to persuade Boozer to go to the sideline.
“It was crazy pretty because I looked over at him and he was holding his thumb up,” Randolph said. “His thumb was crooked and I was like, ‘You need to go out.’ He was like, ‘No. I’m fine.’ I’m, ‘No. You need to go out.’ He’s like, ‘All right.’ He goes out for a play and comes running back on with a club [cast]. ... I wasn’t surprised to see him come back on the field and then, he still showed up and worked the line.”
He switched from tackle to right defensive end so he didn’t have to use both hands. Engle, who played near him on the line, said Boozer couldn’t use his hands to shed the opposing linemen’s hands, a key to playing the position.
“As a lineman, hands are everything,” Boozer said. “I had to completely flip what I had to do. I had to switch positions, because when I was in the middle I had to work with both hands and I couldn’t do it.”
Even as the trainer taped his hand into the club cast, the thumb still slipped out of joint at times and the pain was intense.
“There were times where I could feel it all rushing through my body and other points where I’d just say to myself, ‘No pain and just keep playing,’ ” said Boozer, a first-team All-Metro defensive lineman committed to Temple.
Now, Boozer is looking forward to playing in his final high school football game pain-free. For him, like Engle and many other players in the game, the Turkey Bowl is a big family tradition. Boozer’s father and two brothers played in the game for Loyola, while Engle’s father and brother played other sports at Calvert Hall.
Engle is quick to point out that the Cardinals went 4-0 during his father’s and his brother’s eras. Boozer said his father won the Turkey Bowl, but his brothers did not.
As if his performance last year didn’t show it, he said winning the Turkey Bowl would mean “everything.”
“Having people come up to you and basically spit on your program and say, ‘Oh, you guys are just going to get killed again, aren’t you? You guys have a bad team, bad record every year and you’re going to just lose the Turkey Bowl again,’ I know I can’t handle it anymore, so winning it would be fantastic.”
98th Turkey Bowl
No. 10 Calvert Hall (6-5) vs. Loyola Blakefield (2-7)
When: Thursday, 10 a.m.
Where: Johnny Unitas Stadium, Towson University
TV: Ch. 2
Coaches: Donald Davis, Calvert Hall; Anthony Zehyoue, Loyola
Last meeting: Calvert Hall won, 40-21, last year
Streak: Calvert Hall has won three straight