VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Baltimore's dream of Grey Cup glory reached an angry and tumultuous conclusion last night at raucous B.C. Place.
When the B.C. Lions' Lui Passaglia kicked a 38-yard field goal with no time left on the clock to beat the CFLs, 26-23, it loosed a torrent of frustration in the locker room of Baltimore, the first U.S. team to reach the Grey Cup.
"We need to get some American refs with what they were doing," rush end Elfrid Payton shouted.
"This league will never grow with them making calls like that," halfback Charles Anthony said bitterly. "Canadian against American? It should be East against West.
"They took it . . . took it."
They, in this case, were the Grey Cup officials, headed by referee John Ireland.
When last night's championship game turned, it turned on a questionable call that enabled B.C. to get the field position it needed at the end.
With less than two minutes left and B.C. on its own 40, quarterback Danny McManus lofted a long sideline pass for Ray Alexander.
The ball reached Alexander's hands momentarily, but then seemed to be stripped away by CFLs cornerback Irvin Smith.
After official consultation, the play was ruled a 34-yard completion to the Baltimore 36.
The Lions didn't capitalize on that possession -- Passaglia was wide right on a 37-yard try -- but it pinned Baltimore against its goal line and set up the decisive final series.
It wasn't the only controversial call of the night, either. Halfway XTC through the fourth quarter, officials ruled that quarterback Tracy Ham had fumbled the ball on the goal line as he reached forward with the ball.
It was critical because a touchdown would have put Baltimore up 27-23. Instead, the turnover helped fuel B.C.'s fourth-quarter heroics.
On second down from the 5-yard line, Ham scooted out of the pocket and was hit near the goal line by Tom Europe, from behind, and Tony Collier, from the side.
Ham was hit by Collier as he stretched for the goal line.
"It was a calculated move on my part," said Ham, who had thrown behind a wide-open Robert Drummond at the B.C. 5-yard line the play before. "I stretched the ball out there to break the plane."
When Collier rolled over the top of Ham, Ham rolled with him, leaving the ball at the goal line. One TV replay was inconclusive, but a second -- from behind the end zone -- indicated Ham lost the ball before hitting the ground.
Collier retrieved the ball, and after two Baltimore penalties on the play, the Lions had the ball on their own 23.
The fumble and the questionable catch were the two plays the CFLs pointed to as evidence that the game was taken from them by erroneous officiating.
"You can question my call [whether it was right or wrong]," Ham said, "but you can't question Irv's call."
Said safety Michael Brooks: "No way they were going to let an American team come up and win the Cup. Any questionable call was going to go against us."
While his players spoke in angry tones, Baltimore coach Don Matthews spoke in a whisper.
"I'd hate to think it was an American-Canadian thing," Matthews said. "If the calls that were made were inaccurate, then the
officiating needs to be closely looked at, because the game should be decided by the players."
Baltimore's defense had played well all game, intercepting starting B.C. quarterback Kent Austin three times in the first half.
One of them turned into a razzle-dazzle touchdown when Alvin Walton lateraled his interception to cornerback Karl Anthony, who went 36 yards down the sideline to get a second-quarter touchdown.
Coming 35 seconds after a 1-yard TD run by Ham, that gave Baltimore a 14-3 lead. Anthony's TD, and a first-quarter interception, earned him the game's Most Outstanding Player award.
It was no consolation.
After the Lions turned a 17-10 halftime deficit into a 23-20 fourth-quarter lead, the CFLs tied the game with 6:34 to play on a 29-yard field goal by Donald Igwebuike.
From there, B.C.'s defense began to gain field position.
At one point in the fourth quarter, Angelo Snipes sacked Ham and knocked him out of the game. On the next play, Andrew Stewart sacked Ham's replacement, John Congemi.
By the time Ham returned for the next series, the game had turned.
On B.C.'s next series, Alexander made his questionable catch.
"We go through drills for situations like that," Smith said. "When you don't know where the ball is, you run to his hands."
Smith reached in to seemingly knock the ball loose from Alexander.
"He came up afterward and said they made a bad call," Smith said. "He said, 'Don't be mad at me.' "
It was Baltimore's worst nightmare. In fact, Karl Anthony and Smith, who were roommates, talked about just such a possible finish.
"Me and Irv talked about it lying in bed at night," Anthony said. "We said we have to blow these guys out because if it's close, we're not going to win the game."
Said Smith: "We said if it was close, the refs would keep it [the Cup] up here."
When Passaglia missed his 37-yarder, Baltimore had two players -- Lester Smith and Charles Anthony -- in the end zone to get the ball back out and avoid giving up a single for a point.
Anthony took the kick deep in the end zone and got out to the 2. Baltimore ran two plays, one an incomplete pass on which Ham badly overthrew Walter Wilson, and then punted.
Darren Flutie took Josh Miller's 37-yard punt at the Baltimore 41 and returned it to the 34.
B.C. ran Cory Philpot twice to set up Passaglia's game-winner.
Baltimore had its chances early in the game. But Ham threw two interceptions in the first half -- one returned for a touchdown by Charles Gordon -- and missed open receivers throughout the night.
"I didn't make the plays I usually make," said Ham, who completed nine of 24 passes for 193 yards.