Ham directs victory over Toronto Off to a flying CFL start

July 08, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

TORONTO -- When opening night finally arrived, Tracy Ham was able to forget, Donald Igwebuike remembered, and Baltimore's Canadian Football League team proved resourceful again.

Revisiting the site of his worst CFL season, Ham threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns -- both to Chris Armstrong -- as the Baltimore CFLs outlasted the Toronto Argonauts, 28-20, last night.

Ham, booed in pregame introductions, silenced a scattered crowd of 13,101 with big-play offense and a critical, time-consuming drive in the fourth quarter.

And while Ham was distancing himself from the past, Igwebuike was taking another bold step into his own revival as a place-kicker.

He helped usher in Baltimore's new era with four field goals and one helmet-to-helmet tackle on a kickoff.

Igwebuike arrived in Toronto a day late, after discovering last Monday that his work permit in the United States had expired.

After two days of paperwork, he rejoined the team here yesterday morning.

"I wasn't concerned that I wouldn't make it for the game," Igwebuike said. "I was concerned whether I would make it yesterday or today."

It was a night that started with still another setback for Baltimore's expansion team. Veteran slotback B. K. Williams tore an Achilles' tendon in pre-game warm-ups, finishing his season before it started, Williams will have surgery today.

It was a night that ended, appropriately perhaps, with coach Don Matthews presenting team owner Jim Speros with the game ball -- and Speros spiking it in the locker room.

"Without Jim Speros, we don't have a football team," Matthews told the players in the locker room moments after the game. "He's the one deserving of the first game ball, the first of many, I hope."

Opening night to Speros was the realization of a year-long dream.

"If I put it on a 1-to-10 scale, I'd pick 15," he said. "This team has a lot of character, and it finds a way to win."

Resourceful? The CFLs won with a 91-yard kick return by Shannon Culver that set up a touchdown. They won with two big special teams plays from Matt Goodwin, who blocked a field-goal try and recovered a Toronto fumble by knocking the loose ball out of bounds.

They won with a defense that intercepted three passes, and made a gritty defensive stand at the end of the game when Toronto was in position to play for a tie.

"We made a lot of big plays when we had to," said cornerback Karl Anthony, who had one of the interceptions. "The defense has a lot of veterans, and it helps to have veterans."

After Igwebuike kicked his fourth field goal, a 37-yarder, with 2:02 left in the game, Baltimore had a 28-20 lead. Ham completed five passes in the drive, four for 10 yards or more.

Then the CFLs' defense had to dig in against the Argos. A 35-yard pass from Mike Kerrigan to Titus Dixon put Toronto on the Baltimore 19 with 1:01 left. Two running plays gave the Argos a first down at the 7.

Then cornerback Irvin Smith broke up a pass in the end zone for Paul Masotti, who nearly made the catch. Kerrigan threw incomplete for Mike Clemons on second down on a play defensed by middle linebacker Earnest Fields, who had an interception earlier.

On third down, Kerrigan rolled right and threw short to Bobby Gordon at the 3. Halfback Charles Anthony, playing safe, rode Gordon out of bounds and Baltimore ran out the last 20 seconds.

"I had an opportunity to pick [intercept] the ball," Anthony said. "I was right there, but I wasn't going to risk it."

The surprise was that Kerrigan didn't throw for the huge, 20-yard end zone, but threw underneath the coverage.

"I was looking for a post [or] corner," Anthony said.

For Ham, the game represented a form of vindication. Benched last year in Toronto, he completed 21 of 41 passes. But he did not gloat in the victory.

"I want to be a piece of the puzzle," he said. "If one piece is missing, we're inconsistent. I try to stay focused and not put my personal feelings before the team.

"If I start trying to show people what I can or can't do, then I'm playing for me."

After Culver's long return of a missed Toronto field goal, Ham threw a 32-yard touchdown strike to Armstrong.

In the second quarter, he hit Armstrong on a crossing pattern for a 43-yard touchdown.

"On both plays, we caught the safety coming up," Armstrong said. "If I get a step on him, I should beat him."

Ham said he thought Baltimore wore down Toronto up front.

"I thought the best part of our offense was our offensive line," he said. "Their defensive line got tired, and ours didn't. That was the

difference."

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