CFLs go for finishing touches vs. Gold Miners

November 05, 1994|By Ken MurrayKen Murray | Ken MurrayKen Murray,Sun Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Call it the cleanup detail.

When the Baltimore CFLs close out their first regular season here tonight against the Sacramento Gold Miners, they will tend to some unfinished business.

There is an Eastern Division title waiting to be clinched -- a victory over the Gold Miners would give the 12-5 CFLs home-field advantage in the first two playoff games.

Then there is the numbers game -- Mike Pringle goes for 2,000 rushing yards, Chris Armstrong bids for a touchdown record, Walter Wilson tries for a 1,000-yard receiving season, and Tracy Ham is within range of a personal passing best.

The CFLs take the most balanced offense in the league into Sacramento's farewell game at tiny Hornet Field. That balance is one of the reasons Baltimore could reach the Grey Cup later this month as a first-year team.

It's also one of the reasons the CFLs blew away the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers the past two weeks with a total of 105 points and 1,094 yards.

Numbers? Against B.C., the CFLs rushed for 249 yards and passed for 246. Last week against Winnipeg, they ran for 299 and threw for 300.

That's 548 yards rushing and 546 passing over two games, and that means Sacramento's defense has its hands full tonight.

Does it try to stop Pringle and the run? Or Armstrong and Tracy Ham's passing game?

"Before Mike became a factor," Armstrong said, "teams were trying to blitz us a lot, leaving [the receivers] one-on-one. Now they're not blitzing as much. They try to keep the linebackers at home to stop the run.

"Having Pringle on the team is a godsend."

Armstrong has been a beneficiary. But the veteran slotback had launched his comeback season by the time the CFLs turned Pringle loose.

Cut by the Edmonton Eskimos two years ago and out of football last season, Armstrong now has 71 catches for 1,578 yards. His 22.2-yard average gain is the best in the league. His 18 touchdown catches, though, leave him two behind the CFL's all-time single-season mark of 20 -- set by Toronto's Darrell K. Smith in 1990 and tied this season by Calgary slotback Allen Pitts.

Armstrong has scored touchdowns in seven of the past eight games and 12 of 17.

Depending on what Pitts does tonight against B.C., Armstrong has a shot at the league record. He'll take whatever he can get.

"I sat out last year," said Armstrong, who was a substitute high school teacher in North Carolina. "This is my rebirth. . . . A piece of the record is better than no piece."

Wilson needs 100 yards in receptions to reach the 1,000-yard plateau, and Ham needs 73 yards to set a career high for passing yards in a season. The CFLs quarterback has thrown for 4,294 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Ham's running has returned a critical element to the offense. He was hampered by ankle and thigh injuries earlier, but has rushed 147 yards in the past three games.

"Now Tracy's legs are coming back," Armstrong said, "and he's rushing like he can. That puts a lot of pressure on the defense."

Pringle needs 99 rushing yards to become the first player in CFL history to reach 2,000. He toppled the single-season records for rushing and yards from scrimmage last week. With 177 all-purpose yards, he can get a third league record.

Problematic, though, is a strained right groin that kept Pringle out of two practices this week. He is cleared to play and said he will not take unnecessary risks.

"I will be a little more under control," he said. "I won't change my style, though.

"I have to stay focused on what I'm doing and not force yards or get out of my game -- especially because we're playing Sacramento. The last time, I might have tried too hard."

In a 30-29 loss to the Gold Miners on Sept. 30 in Baltimore, Pringle rushed for 89 yards against his former teammates. That game was noteworthy for, among other things, Sacramento's defensive effort against Pringle. Several defenders took shots at Pringle's knees.

"I don't know if they did it because of the type runner I am -- they knew they couldn't take me on up top -- or they were trying to hurt me," Pringle said. "I watched the film. I know what to expect."

NOTES: Wide receiver Mike Alexander will replace Robert Clark (hamstring) in Baltimore's starting lineup. . . . A dozen civic officials staged a rally Thursday to keep the Gold Miners in Sacramento. The team announced plans to relocate next season.

Baltimore at Sacramento

Site: Hornet Field, Sacramento, Calif.

When: 9 tonight

TV: Ch. 2

% Radio: WJFK (1300 AM)

BALTIMORE-SACRAMENTO TONIGHT

Site: Hornet Field, Sacramento, Calif.

Time: 9

Line: Baltimore by 6 1/2

TV/Radio: Ch. 2/WJFK (1300 AM)

Records: Baltimore 12-5. Sacramento 8-8-1.

Last week: Baltimore beat Winnipeg, 57-10. Sacramento lost to Edmonton, 22-16.

Last time: Sacramento beat Baltimore, 30-29, on Roman Anderson's 47-yard field goal at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 10.

On the sidelines: Baltimore's Don Matthews has a career record of 108-64-1 in 10 Canadian Football League seasons. Sacramento's Kay Stephenson is 14-20-1 in his second CFL season.

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