CFLs look to put away Tiger-Cats

August 10, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

Don Matthews says it comes with the territory.

A blown lead? A squandered opportunity? A sure win turned into a fitful loss?

Welcome to the Canadian Football League.

"It's my experience the last 17 years that no lead is a safe lead in the CFL," the coach of the Baltimore CFLs said yesterday. "It's part of the game. Three-down football is different."

How different was evident the past two weeks, when Baltimore blew leads of 15 and 12 points and split two games it should have won.

When they face the 1-4 Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Memorial Stadium tonight, the 3-2 CFLs will see if they have learned from their mistakes on the road.

The question is, can they put a team away once they've got it on the ropes? The answer, after five games, is unclear.

"Maybe we're not good enough to do that yet," Matthews said. "[But] you've got to give some credit to the other team.

"I'm used to seeing big leads disappear. We're 3-2, tied for first, getting better every week. I've been on both ends of some of those comebacks."

The inability of the CFLs to finish the job once they have a team down cost them the outright Eastern Division lead. Two weeks ago, a 15-point lead melted against Winnipeg's passing machine, Matt Dunigan, and the CFLs dropped a 39-32 decision. Buoyed by the victory, the Blue Bombers (3-2) share first place.

On Saturday, the CFLs led the Las Vegas Posse by 12 points before two ejections and illness turned the game into a seesaw battle. Baltimore survived, 38-33, when it stopped the Posse at the CFLs' 2 at the end.

"That's the CFL," quarterback Tracy Ham said. "Teams are making adjustments out there. The most important thing is to win the ballgame. I don't believe in an ugly win or a pretty win. A win is a win.

"We have to stay focused because we're trying to get to a certain point with this team. We are getting better each week. But it's hard to put a team away in the CFL."

It is imperative that the CFLs learn to do it, though. And this might be the time to learn. Tonight launches a four-game stretch against Eastern Division opponents (Hamilton twice, Toronto and Shreveport) with a combined record of 3-12. Opportunity beckons.

"I don't know if it's mental or a meshing thing," said tackle Neal Fort. "Basically, we realize what we have to do. Sometimes we need to concentrate more. We're capable of putting teams away -- we should have put Winnipeg away."

There were extenuating circumstances against both Winnipeg and Las Vegas. In Winnipeg, the CFLs gave Dunigan a breath of life when their offense hit a second-half lull. Dunigan threw for 312 yards after halftime.

In Las Vegas, the ejection of two defensive starters -- halfback Charles Anthony and outside linebacker Matt Goodwin -- for separate incidents opened the door.

It's always something, though, nose tackle Jearld Baylis said.

"We've got to be able to put a team away," Baylis said. "This game is night and day. A lot of things happen that can turn the game around quickly. I guess we have to acquire a little more killer instinct."

Hamilton had a little killer instinct of its own on Friday when it overturned a 14-0 deficit and beat the Shreveport Pirates, 38-15, in a battle of 0-4 teams. It was easily the best performance of the season for first-year CFL quarterback Timm Rosenbach, the former first-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals. Using a five-receiver offense, Rosenbach passed for 397 yards and two touchdowns.

"We spent lots of time after we signed him preparing him for the difference," said Hamilton coach John Gregory.

"Most guys get fooled by the extra player on the field. But that doesn't bother Timm. Our receivers and offensive linemen have been part of the problem."

In Baltimore, the problem is protecting leads. Sooner or later, the CFLs need to put a team away -- or live with the whiplash of what might have been.

"If we're going to be a dominant team in the league, we have to do it," Matthews said. "We're not a dominant team. We're as good as any team, but we're not a dominant team."

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