East showdown is all Baltimore, 57-10

October 30, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore CFLs needed to win by eight, and they won by 47.

They wanted to take control of the Eastern Division, and they took a stranglehold.

They wanted to show they could play with the big boys, and they blew away the defending division champions.

Validating their Grey Cup credentials, the CFLs routed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 57-10, yesterday, sending a Memorial Stadium crowd of 39,417 into delirium.

Grey Cup fever is epidemic in Baltimore today.

"This win lets the rest of the league know we are for real," Mike Pringle said after rushing for 209 yards to shatter two CFL records. "I imagine it does mean we're the team to beat."

Baltimore's best game of the season came at the most critical point. But yesterday's blowout did not clinch anything.

What it did was set the table for a historic run at the league championship by a first-year team.

The CFLs (12-5) gained the tie-breaking edge over Winnipeg (12-5) by outscoring the Blue Bombers 89-49 in the two-game season series.

They can clinch the East title -- along with home-field advantage through the playoffs -- by beating the Gold Miners on Saturday night in Sacramento.

The Gold Miners (8-8-1) were eliminated from the West playoffs yesterday in a 22-16 loss to Edmonton.

"We set the tone for the team going into the playoffs," said slotback Chris Armstrong, who collaborated with quarterback Tracy Ham on three touchdown passes. "The playoffs will have to go through Baltimore."

The CFLs got an early start in yesterday's playoff atmosphere.

"The players came out on an emotional high I've never seen before," coach Don Matthews said. "Now that they got to that level, they can never go back. That's the standard they set for themselves."

It was a standard of excellence. Winnipeg, which has gone to the Grey Cup three of the past four years, was never in the game.

It was 13-0 in the first quarter, 37-0 at halftime and 40-0 before a gift Winnipeg touchdown in the third quarter, courtesy of a pass interference call. The Blue Bombers didn't get their initial first down until three minutes into the second quarter. Quarterback Matt Dunigan, the mad Bomber renowned for his comebacks, never got in the comeback mode.

The CFLs set the defensive tone on Dunigan's first two snaps. Rush end O. J. Brigance stripped Dunigan of the ball in the backfield -- that's a sack if Dunigan doesn't fumble -- on the first play. Then Elfrid Payton, coming from the other side, pounded Dunigan to the turf on a long incompletion.

"More than anything," Payton said, "we got in his face. He wasn't able to throw the ball."

On offense, Baltimore could do no wrong after Ham's opening-series interception. The CFLs scored on seven of nine first-half possessions and punted once in the first half. A week after they scored 48 points against the B.C. Lions, Ham kicked the offense into a higher gear.

"I thought Tracy called a brilliant game," Matthews said.

Ham completed 14 of 29 passes for 286 yards. His three touchdown throws to Armstrong raised his season count to 30. He kept Winnipeg guessing all afternoon.

"We formationed them today," Ham said. "We were getting what we wanted [from the defense]. They're a blitzing linebacker team. And we match up well against those teams."

It was, for the most part, a mismatch. Baltimore's second series went 64 yards in eight plays, ending with a 14-yard touchdown strike to Armstrong on a crossing route. Ham's pass, tipped at the line by a defender, wobbled to Armstrong but got there nonetheless.

Before the day was over, Armstrong added touchdowns of 16 and 44 yards. The 16-yarder beat Bobby Evans in the end zone on a picture-perfect pass to open a 30-0 lead in the second quarter.

"It was a play we ran two or three times in a row and they made adjustment," Armstrong said. "Tracy made a great pass, and [Evans] just dove and grunted."

Ham pulled big play after big play out of the offensive playbook. He hit Joe Washington for a 26-yard screen that set up the first TTC of five Donald Igwebuike field goals, including a pair of 50-yarders. He hit Shawn Beals for a 37-yard pass to set up another field goal to make it 13-0.

When the ball wasn't airborne, it was in the protective grasp of Pringle, who scored on runs of 23 and 7 yards. He needed 29 carries to pass the 200-mark for the third time this season. It was the eighth time this season he's gained 100 yards or more, all of them victories.

But yesterday's performance was special because he eclipsed the league rushing record of 1,896 yards, set by Calgary's Willie Burden in 1975. With 1,901 and one game left, Pringle has a good shot to reach 2,000.

Fittingly, Pringle got the record on a bullish 13-yard run with six minutes left in the game. He hit a pile at the line of scrimmage, then emerged from the other side, turning a no-gainer into a big gainer.

Earlier in the set, Pringle broke the league record for yards gained from scrimmage. The record was 2,207, set by Winnipeg's Robert Mimbs in 1991. Pringle finished the game with 2,339.

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