Tell Loyola running back Brad Hoag that he has never lost to Calvert Hall and he cringes.
"Don't say that," said Hoag, gearing for tomorrow's kickoff against Calvert Hall at Memorial Stadium (10 a.m., WBAL 1090 AM). "Somebody said that last spring before we played Calvert Hall in lacrosse and we lost [11-10 in overtime]."
The fact remains, Hoag has not lost to Calvert Hall on the football field, but he emphasized that he does not consider tomorrow's 72nd showdown as just another game.
"Playing Calvert Hall is always the big game," he said. "You can forget the records. Winning on Thanksgiving Day makes or breaks your season."
With Hoag in the lineup, Loyola has beaten Calvert Hall two straight years, raising the series record in its favor, 33-30. There have been eight ties. The Dons have won five of the past six meetings.
Hoag, who rushed for 1,144 yards this fall, played a key role in the No. 4-ranked Dons' past two victories over the No. 5 Cardinals. As a sophomore, his 81-yard touchdown run on the 1989 game's first play led to a 15-12 victory. Last year, his rushing yardage (65) was much harder to come by, but he still scored twice in a 29-12 victory.
"We won't be doing anything different for this game," he said. "We prepare for Calvert Hall the same way as any team, except for two things. We usually don't hit as hard in practice, and we spend the weekend before the game at Blue Ridge Summit [in Pennsylvania]."
That trip affords coach Joe Brune and his Dons with some useful R & R -- refocus and re-energize, Hoag said.
"We had a great weekend and we are ready," he said. "We know we will be facing a very good team."
Coach Bill Mackley's Cardinals boast a 9-1 record, the lone loss a 20-3 setback to No. 1-ranked City. The Dons are 7-2-1. In pre-conference games, they tied St. John's (D.C.), 14-14, and lost to Gonzaga (D.C.), 27-18.
In conference action, they lost only to City, 12-6. Both are 7-1 in the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference, behind City (8-0 conference, 9-0 overall). Tomorrow's winner can only hope for a share of the MSA championship, if No. 18 Poly (4-4, 5-4) upsets City in the 2 p.m. season finale at Memorial Stadium.
Hoag is quick to credit his teammates for the Dons' and his own success.
"If I am able to gain yardage inside or outside, it's because of the blocking I get from the offensive line, especially Dave Bright," he said.
Brune agreed, and also cited the blocking of fullbacks Mark Lafferty and Brian Oates, ends Colin Brune and C. J. Ginter, and wingbacks Brian Perrier and Greg Hobelmann. "They all share in Brad's being able to get outside and turn the corner," he said. "And Jeff Zielinski spells Brad offensively and gives us a lift."
Mackley said he was overwhelmed that his Cardinals are only once-beaten.
"We just don't have a Brad Hoag or a Billy Evans [Loyola quarterback who has rushed for nine touchdowns and passed for five]," he said. "Joe Brune has five or six players who are standouts.
"I've been telling people all year our kids play with pure heart. They believe in themselves and do the best they can."
Calvert Hall counts heavily on team defense, anchored by linebacker Mickey Lippy. Offensively, senior Will Harcum has rushed for 800 yards and sophomore Adam Roberts has gained 555 yards filling in for the oft-injured Harcum.
But Hoag is proof that big plays -- not statistics -- produce the happiest of Thanksgivings.