Stallions rally, stay ahead of pack, 28-20

September 10, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

For three quarters last night, the Baltimore Stallions took a step back in time, back to the days when their offense consisted of sporadic drives, untimely breakdowns and the steady right foot of kicker Carlos Huerta.

But the Stallions, mainly quarterback Tracy Ham, found their stride in crunch time against the Birmingham Barracudas, and the result was a come-from-behind, 28-20 victory before 29,013 at Memorial Stadium.

The Stallions (9-3) won their third straight game, swept their season series with Birmingham (6-5) and solidified their grip on the Canadian Football League's Southern Division. They also dropped the Barracudas into a second-place tie with San Antonio.

And they did it in dramatic fashion, in a game that changed hands four times in the second half and saved the spectators from a complete night of boredom. The first half produced just six points, with Baltimore taking a 5-1 lead.

The second half, particularly the fourth quarter, was a different story. Baltimore, stung by a brilliant night by Birmingham quarterback Matt Dunigan -- he threw for 384 yards and a touchdown -- found themselves trailing 20-18 when Birmingham kicker Luis Zendejas kicked a 25-yard field goal with a little under 10 minutes to play.

Ham then ignited the Stallions with the game's critical drive, a 69-yard march that ended when Ham found slotback Chris Armstrong in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard score with 5:52 left. It marked Armstrong's second touchdown reception in his past seven games, and gave him his first 100-yard receiving game of the season.

Huerta then kicked his fourth field goal in as many tries with 1:26 left to seal the victory. That completed a 17-point quarter for Baltimore, which missed running back Mike Pringle, the CFL's leading rusher who sat out with a left hamstring injury.

"I think that is a classic example of finding a way to win when things aren't going right for you," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "Things weren't going right. We were drawing too many penalties and shooting ourselves in the foot, but the players hung in there."

No one hung as tough as Ham, who absorbed five first-half sacks by the blitzing Barracudas before rallying the Stallions with his best game of the year.

Ham finished with 25 completions in 35 attempts for 315 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 53 yards.

He was at his best on the go-ahead drive. He completed a 16-yard pass to Armstrong and a 14-yarder to wide receiver Shannon Culver, before scrambling for 16 yards inside the Birmingham 10. Ham took a late hit on the play, moving the Stallions to the 4. On the next play, Ham hit Armstrong, who finished with six receptions for 103 yards.

"We had to move it out of the pocket and give them different looks," Ham said. "We stopped making mistakes we had made earlier in the game. We knew were going to have to throw."

Things didn't look good for Baltimore midway through the third quarter. Their running game, despite a solid effort from Robert Drummond, who replaced Pringle by rushing 17 times for 67 yards, was inconsistent.

Eleven penalties at a cost of 85 yards didn't help the attack. And Dunigan recovered from a rough first quarter by attacking the Stallions effectively deep, especially with wide receiver Jason Phillips (six catches, 159 yards).

Dunigan gave Birmingham its first lead of the game, when, with 5:34 left in the third quarter, he threw a perfect, 35-yard strike to Marcus Grant. Despite tight coverage by Baltimore cornerback Irv Smith, Grant hauled in the pass in the end zone to give the Barracudas a 14-11 lead. Zendejas kicked a 33-yard field goal with 4:17 left in the quarter to extend Birmingham's lead to 17-11.

With the fans booing loudly, the Stallions regrouped on their next possession, thanks largely to a successful fake punt on a third-and-nine at Baltimore's 45. Fullback Peter Tuipulotu took the short snap and rambled for 13 yards and a first down, giving the Stallions new life.

"There probably wasn't a bigger play in the game," Matthews said. "When you call that, you've got to get them [the defense] in the right formation. Peter calls it, but I give him the green light. He made a good decision. If he would've called it off, I would've killed him."

A holding penalty set the Stallions back temporarily, but Ham responded with 16-yard completions to Armstrong and Tuipulotu, while adding a 7-yard scramble to the Birmingham 23. Two plays later, rookie Chris Wright, who has grabbed most of his headlines as a kick returner -- he had 271 all-purpose yards last night -- when he took a swing pass from Ham and scored a 20-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.

That put Baltimore on top 18-17, but after Zendejas' field goal, Ham and Armstrong were left to perform their game-deciding heroics.

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