No rough ride: CFLs win Matthews' homecoming

September 19, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

REGINA, Saskatchewan -- If this was a statement, the Baltimore CFLs said it loud and clear.

If it was a trip down memory lane, Don Matthews didn't get deterred by the nostalgic sidelights.

In a game that was a little of both, the CFLs defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders, 35-18, before a sellout crowd of 28,035 at Taylor Field yesterday.

The victory was far-reaching. It lifted Baltimore (7-4) back into a first-place tie with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Eastern Division, toppled the Sacramento Gold Miners' 1993 Canadian Football League record of six wins for an expansion team and proved you can go home again, at least in Canada.

Matthews, the CFLs coach, went home in style. Booed in pre-game introductions, he sent the partisan crowd home in a somber state with nine minutes left.

Nine months after he resigned as Roughriders coach on the promise of an expansion team in Baltimore, he said what he had denied all week.

"I was a little more nervous before this game," Matthews said. "I felt some apprehension coming back to Regina. I didn't think I would. But once the game started, my focus was on the field."

He had a lot to focus on. He lost quarterback Tracy Ham to back spasms in the first half. He watched the CFLs go Jekyll-and-Hyde, giving up three turnovers to keep Saskatchewan in the game early. And he lost backup quarterback John Congemi in the second half, at which point Ham re-entered the game.

But in the end, the CFLs had too many weapons for Saskatchewan (6-5). They rolled up 571 yards in total offense and 27 first downs. Everywhere they looked, they found heroes.

There was running back Mike Pringle, who rushed for 173 yards and two touchdowns and reached the 1,000-yard mark in Week 11.

There was fullback Peter Tuipulotu, who caught seven passes for 124 yards and the clinching touchdown, a 19-yarder. In the process, he dominated his matchup against Saskatchewan linebackers.

There was slotback Chris Armstrong, who went over 1,000 yards receiving with three catches for 137 yards. He gave when the CFLs needed. He turned a simple square-in route into an 83-yard touchdown in the first quarter when Baltimore trailed 8-0. And his clutch 35-yard catch on second-and-19 in the fourth quarter set up Tuipulotu's touchdown.

There was wide receiver Mike Alexander, whose one catch went for 49 yards. He injured his sternum on the play, but continued to play on special teams.

And then there were the quarterbacks, Ham and Congemi, who threw for 379 yards between them.

Ham barely could straighten up after he was hit and twisted on a quarterback sneak at the Saskatchewan goal line in the second quarter. But when Congemi took another shot on his cracked left rib in the third quarter, Ham finished up.

"Once the pain pills kick in, I can do what I have to do," said Ham, who completed 10 of 17 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. "I was close to ready before John got hurt.

"John's timing was impeccable. I appreciate him giving me that field position."

Congemi took the CFLs from their 16 to the Saskatchewan 5 in three plays in the third quarter. He threw a hitch pass to Alexander that went for 49 yards, gave the ball to Pringle for 14, then threw to Tuipulotu for 26. He was hit -- and hurt -- on that play.

Ham came on then, fumbled the first snap and was sacked on the second. A face-mask penalty against cornerback Albert Brown gave Baltimore a first down at the 3, though. Then it took Pringle two runs to get the touchdown that made it 25-15 with six minutes left in the quarter.

Congemi finished five of eight for 124 yards with a questionable sideline interception on a pass he was throwing away.

What worked wonders for Baltimore was the matchup of Pringle and Tuipulotu against the Saskatchewan linebackers.

"We knew they played a lot of man [coverage]," Tuipulotu said. "Instead of putting a fifth receiver on the field, we tried to match up the running backs on the linebackers."

The CFLs did it by running trips to one side of the field, then sending the backs to the other.

"Peter played a whale of a game," Ham said. "And Mike got stronger as the game went on. They complement each other so well. Peter blocked well, and we controlled the line of scrimmage."

Baltimore also trashed the Roughriders' unbeaten record at home -- they had been 5-0 -- and their 4-0 mark against Eastern teams.

It also marked Baltimore's first victory over a team with a winning record. And the CFLs are 5-1 on the road.

If there was a statement in all of that, it was left to Armstrong to state it.

"This lets people know we can win not only in the East, but in the West," Armstrong said. "I think this game gives us an identity."

And it almost certainly gave Matthews a special feeling.

"I'm sure it's special to him," Pringle said. "He'll probably hide it, but I'm sure he'll go home with a great big smile."

BALTIMORE SCHEDULE

RECORD: 7-4

Date .. .. Opp. .. .. .. .. Result/Time

July 7 ... at Toronto .. .. W, 28-20

July 16 .. Calgary L, .. .. 42-16

July 23 .. Shreveport .. .. W, 40-24

July 28 .. at Winnipeg . .. L, 39-32

Aug. 6 ... at Las Vegas ... W, 38-33

Aug. 10 .. Hamilton . .. .. W, 30-15

Aug. 20 .. Toronto .. .. .. L, 31-24

Aug. 27 .. at Hamilton . .. W, 28-17

Sept. 3 .. at Shreveport .. W, 28-16

Sept. 10 . Sacramento .. .. L, 30-29

Sept. 18 . at Saskcatchewan W, 35-18

Sept. 25 . at Ottawa ... .. 1:30

Oct. 1 ... Ottawa . . .. .. 7:30

Oct. 7 ... Las Vegas ... .. 7:30

Oct. 16 .. at Edmonton . .. 3:30

Oct. 22 .. British Columbia .. 2

Oct. 29 .. Winnipeg . .. .. .. 2

Nov. 5 ... at Sacramento .. .. 9

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