Second-place CFLs stumble to 31-24 loss

October 17, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

EDMONTON, Alberta -- Now they will play from behind.

No more first-place tie for the Baltimore CFLs, who fell one game behind in the Canadian Football League's Eastern Division yesterday on the blunt edge of their special teams.

No more winning streak, either.

The first-year CFLs got their comeuppance in Commonwealth Stadium, where they stumbled to a 31-24 loss to the defending Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos.

When the CFLs (10-5) awoke this morning, they found themselves looking up at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the end of a week's play for the first time in seven weeks.

"We played two separate [contrasting] halves," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said, "and I wish I had the reason why. I'm very disappointed at not being able to win the game. We just didn't make plays."

Not until the second half, anyway. By then, they had dug a 21-6 hole that proved inescapable.

Delivering their best all-around performance since a Labor Day victory over Calgary, the Eskimos (11-4) broke Mike Pringle's string of four consecutive 100-yard rushing games -- a string that coincided neatly with the team's winning streak.

They chased quarterback Tracy Ham away from his game plan early.

And they pushed Baltimore's defense around the field with a backup quarterback after Damon Allen left the game in the first quarter with a strained back muscle.

Rickey Foggie responded with a two-touchdown, 262-yard passing game that lifted Edmonton past the British Columbia Lions into second place in the West.

But perhaps most galling aspect of yesterday's loss was the beating the CFLs took on special teams.

It was unsightly, starting with Eddie Brown's 92-yard punt return for a first-quarter touchdown.

Brown, filling in for injured Gizmo Williams, fielded a short 31-yard punt from Josh Miller on his 18, picked up a block to the left and then raced untouched down the sideline.

"I just wanted to get outside as fast as possible," Brown said. "Once I got there, no one was going to catch me."

Earnest Fields and Mike Kerr missed Brown early, and Peter Tuipulotu arrived too late at the sideline to get a shot at him.

It was an ominous portent. Edmonton rolled up 234 yards in kick BTC returns to Baltimore's 126. It was also the beginning of a hat trick for Brown, who caught touchdown passes of 25 and 4 yards.

Aside from Donald Igwebuike's three field goals (47, 35 and 41 yards), Baltimore's kicking game was a disaster. It was so bad that Matthews switched his kickoff man twice -- from Miller to Igwebuike to Miller.

"They weren't kicking well," Matthews said. "Josh wasn't kicking or punting well. I thought I'd give Donald a chance. But neither one kicked well.

"All of our kickoffs were bad, and our coverage was bad, too."

It became a significant factor in Baltimore's failed fourth-quarter comeback bid.

After Pringle -- held to 32 yards on 14 carries -- scored his second 1-yard touchdown of the game with 7:47 left, the CFLs trailed 28-21.

But Miller, taking over for Igwebuike, hit a 50-yard kickoff to the 25, and Lucius Floyd returned it 27 yards to the Edmonton 52.

Two plays later, the Eskimos cashed in that favorable field position for a 47-yard Sean Fleming field goal -- and a critical 10-point lead with 2:26 to play.

Igwebuike hit a 41-yard field goal with 1:27 left, and Baltimore again was in position for at least a tie.

But a roughness penalty against Guy Earle gave Edmonton excellent field position at its 50.

"The play was over, and I saw No. 40 [Bennie Goods] hit Scott Miller from behind," Earle said. "I went to peel him off."

And picked up the flag.

Edmonton ran twice, then punted, pinning Baltimore at its 24 by holding Lester Smith to 5 yards on the return. Averaging 13.4 per return coming in, Smith was held to 5.2 yards a return yesterday.

From there, Ham put the CFLs in Edmonton territory with two passes. One was a 16-yard gain on a pick play to Robert Drummond. The other was a 21-yarder to Chris Armstrong down the middle. That carried to the Eskimos' 49 with 12 seconds left.

On first down Ham missed Armstrong on a deep pattern inside the 15. On the final play, with Mike Alexander, Armstrong and Drummond inside the 10 to the right side of the field, Ham lofted a Hail Mary pass that was tipped out of bounds as time expired.

Ham completed 18 of 32 passes for 296 yards, but most of it came in the second half. He was four of nine for 81 yards in the first half.

"In the second half, we tried to do the things we practiced," Matthews said. "We got away from our game plan very early."

Ham accepted responsibility.

"I've got to keep us in the right play," he said. "We wanted to run from the scatter formation. We wanted to get the ball across the middle to Armstrong, and in the flat to the wide receivers."

Armstrong had a big day with seven catches for 151 yards, all but one catch coming in the second half when Baltimore produced 16 of its 22 first downs and 248 of its 380 yards in total offense.

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