78th Loyola-Hall game could rank among best Area's 'Top 2' to meet

MIAA A title at stake

November 27, 1997|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Lou Eckerl "cares about kids," said Loyola coach Joe Brune, referring to his Calvert Hall counterpart for today's 78th Thanksgiving Day football game at Memorial Stadium.

That's a tribute from one of the Baltimore area's most experienced coaches to Eckerl, who has endured some tough moments while getting to this, his fourth season, with an 8-24 record.

But his No. 2-ranked Cardinals are flying high now at 8-1 overall and 2-1 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association's A Conference. A win today would secure a tie with Brune's No. 1 Dons (8-1, 2-1) for the league title.

Today marks the first time the schools have met having the metro area's two highest-ranked teams.

The game also features All-City/County Offensive Player of the Year Brant Hall (Loyola's quarterback) and Defensive Player of the Year Loui Georgalas (Calvert Hall's defensive tackle).

Brune includes Eckerl with other coaches, such as Wilde Lake's Doug DuVall, Patterson's Roger Wrenn, Gilman's Biff Poggi, City's George Petrides and Poly's retired Augie Waibel, in saying: "I think this area is lucky to have guys like them coaching football."

So it's no small wonder Brune was appalled by Eckerl's treatment at last year's game, a nip-and-tuck, 12-7 Loyola victory that secured the longest winning streak (eight games) in the history of the nation's oldest Catholic-school football rivalry.

During the game, an airplane circled the stadium with a message on a banner that had disparaging remarks concerning Eckerl.

"I wasn't aware of it until after the game, but it was very embarrassing -- an indication of certain people not understanding what high school sports is all about," said Brune, who has 192 career wins in 31 seasons at Loyola. "Lou Eckerl's a coach that's really dedicated to working with kids. And I think he's doing a good job."

So seriously is this game taken that players have spoken of being "disowned by alumni" for losing.

Eckerl, a Cardinal Gibbons graduate who is in his 16th year as the Cardinals' athletic director, took some criticism after hiring himself to replace Bill Mackley (now at John Carroll) as football coach. His popularity didn't improve after an initial 2-8 season, and it worsened after identical 3-8 campaigns.

But some positive results came in those three seasons, as Calvert Hall defeated City twice and, last year, nearly beat Dunbar -- a team that on Saturday seeks its third state title in five seasons under coach Stanley Mitchell.

"Over the last three years, I've felt that each year we'd been getting competitive and coming closer to having a good year," said Eckerl, 45, a former quarterback at Gibbons and at Juniata College, which he graduated from in 1974.

"Last year, we lost to Dunbar with 44 seconds left," Eckerl added. "And there were probably a couple of other games, culminating with the Thanksgiving Day game, where we had a a shot to win with a break here or there."

The Cardinals, who combined 14 players from last year's squad and several from a 7-3 JV, avenged one of last year's losses right away. They routed Baltimore County Class 3A-4A champ Dulaney, 42-0, before blasting Frederick County High, 30-9. In its third game, Calvert Hall edged City -- ranked No. 5 in the preseason -- by 23-18.

But The Big One was a 28-21 victory at then-No. 2 Mount St. Joseph's homecoming as Calvert Hall avenged two previous losses by a combined 100-16.

"It felt great for our kids, especially our seniors, because that was a turning point in our program, showing we could win big games," said Eckerl, who has routinely pulled his starters before halftime of one-sided games.

The Cardinals are inspired by last year's effort against Loyola, when they trailed by five and were within striking distance of winning with under a minute left before quarterback Jason Bungori had a long pass intercepted.

"I can hardly sleep at nights. It's been a key factor in preparation for this year," said Bungori, a 6-foot-1, 175-pounder. "We came in knowing that we didn't want the same thing to happen. One of our goals is to come back and perform better, take those opportunities and convert them into points."

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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