CFLs will try to prove 57-10 was not a fluke

November 20, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- As if 57-10 were not evidence enough, the Baltimore CFLs will try today to prove again the balance of power in the Canadian Football League's Eastern Division has been relocated to the south.

They will make their case at 32,000-seat Winnipeg Stadium against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Eastern final, one slippery step from the Grey Cup. Given the recent history of the division, there is no better place for the 13-6 CFLs to make their point.

The 14-5 Blue Bombers have been to the Eastern final all eight years they've been in the division. They have been to the Grey Cup three of the past four years. They have won five straight postseason games -- and 10 of the past 11 -- in this wintry haven on the Canadian prairie.

They are an Eastern dynasty waiting to be broken.

Baltimore already did it once. That was on Oct. 29, at Memorial Stadium, when the CFLs trashed Winnipeg, 57-10, to temporarily take first place in the East.

An 18-0 loss to Sacramento a week later turned home-field advantage back to the Bombers, setting the stage for today's showdown.

But Oct. 29 will serve as a sharp backdrop to whatever story history writes today on Winnipeg's frozen artificial surface.

"I wish I could say the last time we beat them meant something in this game," said Baltimore coach Don Matthews. "But the game will be decided by the players over 60 minutes of football."

Nevertheless, the last 60 minutes of football between Baltimore and Winnipeg left an impression that is not easily forgotten.

"Watching extra film isn't going to help them," said CFLs rush end Elfrid Payton, who returns to his former romping ground for the first time since he became a free agent last winter.

"You can know everything I run, but still you've got to execute. We have the mental edge on them. If both teams play the best they can play, I feel we'll win the game."

If nothing else, that 47-point blowout told the CFLs what was possible, even against the long-standing division kingpin.

"We know we can beat them if we play focused, and play our best game," said Baltimore rush end O. J. Brigance.

The CFLs almost did it twice during the regular season. On July 28, they had the Bombers reeling early in the second half. Down 25-10, though, quarterback Matt Dunigan brought the Bombers back for a 39-32 victory.

Dunigan is the eye of the storm today.

If he has time to operate his rollout passing game, time to stand behind his massive tackles and find his slotbacks downfield, Baltimore will be in trouble.

But if the CFLs can pressure Dunigan and play ball control the way they did Oct. 29, the Bombers are in trouble.

"The key is if we get our offense on the field and keep Dunigan on the sideline watching," said Steve Buratto, Baltimore's offensive coordinator. "That's the biggest difference between what happened in Baltimore and what happened in Winnipeg."

What happened in Baltimore was a rumbling ground game that chewed up time and real estate for the CFLs. Mike Pringle, the East's Outstanding Player of the Year, rushed for 209 yards and two touchdowns, and Baltimore rushed for 299 all told.

Winnipeg didn't come close to stopping the run that day.

"If they can't stop the run this time," Payton said, "it'll be a duplicate."

Pringle sat out last week's 34-15 semifinal victory over Toronto with a strained groin muscle. He's healthy, he's back, and he wants the ball.

"We stuck to our game plan and executed the last time," Pringle said. "We were able to run away from their strength and formation of their defense, so we could pick and choose the plays we wanted to run.

"We have to stick with our game plan. Do not deviate from that game plan, no matter what happens. Do not panic. . . . I'm anxious to play."

Whatever adjustments Winnipeg makes in its base 3-4 defense, Buratto expects the emphasis will be on stopping the run.

"But barring our putting the ball on the ground, I don't think they're physical enough to do it," he said.

Baltimore will counter by giving a different look to its offense "so Winnipeg can't hone in on what we did before," Buratto said.

That new look will, at times, feature a backfield of Pringle and Robert Drummond.

TTC A week ago in Pringle's absence, Drummond ran for 111 yards against Toronto. He could be equally effective matched up against a linebacker in Tracy Ham's passing game.

"I think they're going to give us more inside linebacker pressure, and try to force us to throw the ball downfield," Buratto said.

"I can recall as a defensive coach trying to do that to Tracy Ham before, and he beat us like a drum."

Ham called perhaps his best game in the Oct. 29 victory over Winnipeg. Now, with a Grey Cup berth on the line, he'll try to do it again.

"We've got to control the ball," he said. "When we've beaten people, we've kept our defense off the field. And our defense is playing as well as anybody in the league of late."

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