Winnipeg win leaves waterlogged CFLs with second thoughts

November 07, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

Toronto got its wish, Ottawa got its free pass and Baltimore got second place.

Consider the stage set for Baltimore's first appearance in the CFL playoffs.

And once again, the Eastern Division path to the Nov. 27 Grey Cup runs through Winnipeg. Or, as Baltimore rush end Elfrid Payton calls it, "Winter-peg."

The CFLs (12-6) will make their postseason splash Saturday at 4 p.m. against the Toronto Argonauts (7-11) in Memorial Stadium.

That pairing was determined yesterday, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (13-6) defeated the Argos, 35-28, to take the Eastern Division title from Baltimore.

The Bombers open the playoffs Sunday at home against the Ottawa Rough Riders, who backed in with a 4-14 record and a 28-24 loss to Shreveport on Friday.

Ottawa got its second life when the Saskatchewan Roughriders eliminated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 16-14, yesterday on a 49-yard field goal by Paul McCallum. Although both teams finished 4-14, Ottawa advanced because of the points-differential tiebreaker with Hamilton.

The CFL playoff format pits the champion in each division against the fourth-place team and the second-place team against the third.

For Baltimore, yesterday's second-place news was the confirmation of Saturday's nightmare. The CFLs lost their shot at the division title when they fumbled 11 times and committed five turnovers in a rain-drenched, 18-0 loss at Sacramento.

"We're disappointed at the outcome of the division title," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "The task remains the same, although it may be more difficult."

Should Baltimore beat Toronto in Saturday's division semifinal, it would play the final Nov. 20, at Winnipeg if the Blue Bombers advance. In Week 17, the CFLs hammered the Bombers, 57-10, in Baltimore.

"We'll find out if they're 47 points better at home than on the road," Matthews said. "We should not be intimidated at going to Winnipeg."

The Argos wanted no part of Winnipeg in the first round, and said so after beating the Edmonton Eskimos two weeks ago.

Kick returner and part-time running back Mike "Pinball" Clemons voiced the opinion Toronto wanted a first-round date in Baltimore.

"First, we proved we can beat Baltimore when we beat them on their home field earlier this year," Clemons said. "Second, there's better weather in Baltimore than in Winnipeg. And third, you don't want to fool with [Winnipeg quarterback Matt] Dunigan unless you have to."

It was also after that Edmonton game that Toronto defensive tackle Rodney Harding took an indirect slap at Baltimore. "Until now, we hadn't beaten a quality team," he said.

Payton, who played three seasons with the Bombers, can appreciate the rationale about avoiding Winnipeg in November.

"I can understand why they don't want to go up in the cold two weeks in a row," he said. "[But] after seeing films of our games against B.C. and Winnipeg, they're not going to want to come here, either.

"They're a good team, though. They're somebody to be worried about."

Of Toronto's wish to be in Baltimore, CFLs nose tackle Jearld Baylis said: "That's their misfortune."

Baltimore's misfortune Saturday night was getting caught in a Sacramento downpour. The nightlong rain undermined quarterback Tracy Ham's game plan.

Enduring the league's first shutout in three years, the CFLs crossed midfield only once in each quarter. Their deepest drive was to the Sacramento 33 in the fourth quarter. That series ended when Ham was stripped of the ball.

The CFLs had the ball in Sacramento territory for only 11 plays.

On a night when Sacramento ran the ball 42 times for 222 yards, the league's No. 1 rushing offense ran just 19 times for 105 yards. Throwing downfield much of the game in the adverse conditions, Ham completed six of 19 passes for 54 yards.

"Tracy tried to make big plays," Matthews said. "He tried to take too much on himself.

"We were running the ball successfully, but laying it on the ground. We were running from a different perspective, too. They had the lead, and we were trying to catch up. There's a different philosophy if you're ahead or behind in a bad- weather game."

Baltimore had trouble throwing, catching, carrying and snapping the ball. Ham took a helmet on his right elbow trying to recover an errant center snap from Scott Miller, who replaced injured Nick Subis in the second half.

When John Congemi replaced Ham on the next series, Miller's first snap sailed over his head for a safety.

"We just did not handle the weather conditions, and they did," Matthews said. "That's not an excuse; it's fact.

"We'll just bury that one. It was not a contest that will have any bearing on what we do in the future."

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