CFLs ready to brave elements

November 14, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

One more time with goose bumps and rain slickers?

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Baltimore learned its opponent in the Canadian Football League's Eastern Division final on Sunday will be the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who beat the Ottawa Rough Riders, 26-16, yesterday.

It means a budding rivalry that started in the stifling heat of a Winnipeg July, and careened through a raucous October rout in Baltimore, will conclude in the frozen playoff air of Manitoba.

The winner of that best-of-three series gets to go indoors for the Nov. 27 Grey Cup at B.C. Place, a domed stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia.

According to rush end Elfrid Payton, who should know, the CFLs will be fortunate on Sunday to have weather approximating yesterday's conditions in Winnipeg.

Forty-degree temperatures, slight wind and sporadic rain is like a day of sunshine up there, he said.

"We'll be in good shape if it's like that," said Payton, who played three seasons in Winnipeg and watched yesterday's game via satellite at Memorial Stadium with some teammates.

The weather he doesn't want to see?

"A steady downpour of rain," he said.

Ice, of course, is not out of the question. And Winnipeg is big on 40-mph wind at this time of year, too.

Either way, Baltimore coach Don Matthews figures his CFLs are in good shape for the elements.

"A bad-weather game hurts passing, and then it comes down to the running game," he said. "And I think that's to our advantage."

It was a case of the rich getting richer Saturday, when the CFLs discovered they had a second 100-yard rusher in their midst.

Robert Drummond filled in for injured Mike Pringle with a 111-yard, two-touchdown performance that underscored a 34-15 victory over the Toronto Argonauts.

Matthews said Pringle will play in Winnipeg if his right groin muscle allows, and Drummond will return to his role as backup fullback and front-line special teams player.

Pringle was adamant Saturday night that he will play next week.

"There's no way I won't play," he said. "The decision's already made.

"I'm glad [Baltimore's offense] went out and got the ball in the end zone, and gave us another game."

Pringle ran for 209 yards and two touchdowns on Oct. 29 when the CFLs thrashed the Blue Bombers, 57-10. He broke the league's single-season rushing record in that game and also strained the groin muscle that has hampered him the past two weeks.

That was the game that elevated Baltimore prominently into the Grey Cup picture. The CFLs (13-6) have won three of their past four. The loss in the streak was a fumble-marred, 18-0 loss to the Sacramento Gold Miners in torrential rain.

Saturday's victory over Toronto seemed to restore the luster to Baltimore's late-season rush.

It also gave Matthews the confidence to crawl out on a narrow limb.

Does Baltimore have the best team in the league right now? He hesitated, but only for a moment.

"I think so," Matthews said. "We're playing as good as anybody. We've got to keep doing it, though.

"Yeah, I feel we're the best team."

Winnipeg, the Eastern Division regular-season champion, will put that to the test at home, where the Blue Bombers at times appear unbeatable.

They erased a 15-point deficit July 28 to win the first regular-season meeting between the two teams, 39-32, in Winnipeg.

Since 1982, the Bombers are 10-1 at home in the playoffs. The only loss in that stretch was a 1987 setback against Toronto, 19-3.

But Baltimore receiver Robert Clark said home-field advantage won't win it for Winnipeg this week.

"It's always great to know you have your home crowd behind you," he said. "But we won't let their crowd keep us from doing what we have to do."

What will matter is getting off to another strong start like the CFLs did in their Week 17 blowout of the Bombers.

"For us offensively, the key is being productive early," Clark said. "We need to get out on them early and get some points."

On defense, Payton said, the CFLs have to "play to the level we did in Week 17. It's a must we get to Matt [Dunigan, Winnipeg quarterback] again and make him throw when he's not ready. I think we'll be able to stop their running game."

NOTES: Drummond was the team's Offensive Player of the Week against Toronto. Rush end O. J. Brigance was the defensive player and Alvin Walton took the special teams award. . . . Nose tackle Jearld Baylis aggravated a right calf injury Saturday and was on crutches yesterday but is expected to play.

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