Stallions roll, 42-32, clinch spot in playoffs Ham passes for 3 TDs in sixth straight win

September 24, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

For the second straight week, the Baltimore Stallions outclassed the Shreveport Pirates. And for the second straight week, the Stallions picked a sloppy way to finish the job.

The bottom line is the Stallions clinched a playoff spot by beating the Pirates, 42-32, before 27,321 at Memorial Stadium. Baltimore (11-3) won its season-high sixth straight game and moved within two victories of clinching the Southern Division championship and home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the Canadian Football League's postseason.

Quarterback Tracy Ham continued his hot September, completing 14 of 18 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns, and running for 39 yards and a score, all in three quarters.

Two of those touchdown passes went to slotback Chris Armstrong, who had his third straight 100-yard game after going through the season's first 11 weeks without one. Armstrong caught five passes for 102 yards, all in the first half.

Running back Mike Pringle, bouncing back from a 45-yard game last week in Shreveport, continued his assault on the 2,000-yard rushing mark by gaining 135 yards on 19 carries. That marked the seventh time Pringle has gone over the 100-yard mark this season.

Baltimore scored the game's first 15 points, gave [See Stallions, up a field goal, then reeled off 24 points to take a 39-3 cushion into the fourth quarter.

That's when the Pirates (4-10) stopped playing like a last-place team. Behind quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, who returned after suffering a broken finger on his throwing hand in last week's 24-17 loss to Baltimore, the Pirates rallied for 29 points in the fourth quarter.

The finish was reminiscent of last week's game, in which Baltimore took a 24-3 lead into the fourth quarter, only to allow two touchdowns before hanging on for the win.

The outcome was secured only after Chris Wright recovered Shreveport's second onside kick of the quarter with 31 seconds left. The first onside kick worked and fueled the Pirates' comeback.

Baltimore coach Don Matthews was irritated by the Stallions' lack of killer instinct down the stretch.

"I don't think we played with the right intensity in the fourth quarter. That's a lesson we're going to learn from this -- not to play that way," Matthews said. "The game is never over, because in this league, you can get the ball back real soon. And, if you lose your intensity, it's really hard to get it back."

The Pirates out-gained Baltimore in total yards, 498-366, largely because Tolliver refused to let them die in a wild fourth quarter. He threw for a huge chunk of his 395 passing yards in the last quarter, capping it with a 15-yard touchdown to Will Covington with 34 seconds left, cutting the lead to 42-32. That was preceded by two touchdown runs by Travis Cozart.

But the Pirates, despite 269 yards of offense in the fourth quarter, could not overcome three costly turnovers, and the attack of Ham, Armstrong and Pringle.

"I've done what I've had to do to help us win ballgames. I'm certainly capable of playing better," Ham said. "I think the main thing is I'm getting healthy. I'm getting better physically, and I'm able to move around. For a span there, I was banged up, but that's part of the game."

Ham's game looked complete last night. After throwing an interception, he responded on Baltimore's next drive by completing three straight passes -- two to Armstrong -- before scrambling 19 yards for a touchdown to give Baltimore an 8-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Early in the second quarter, Ham hit Armstrong for a 19-yard score to make it 15-0, completing a four-play, 40-yard drive.

Then, late in the first half, Baltimore's defense set up Ham and Armstrong again by forcing their second turnover of the half. After Tolliver completed a pass, Fred Montgomery lost the ball on a hit by cornerback Doug Craft. That set up another long Baltimore drive that required little time.

A 25-yard run by Pringle set up Ham's 42-yard pass to Armstrong, who burned halfback Bobby Evans over the middle to give the Stallions a 22-3 halftime lead.

Baltimore's defense and Pringle pounded the Pirates in the third quarter. After Pringle had gone over the 100-yard mark, the Stallions' defense turned its third turnover into an easy score, again after a pass completion by Shreveport.

This time, running back Norman Bradford coughed up the ball in the worst place -- inside the Pirates' 5-yard line, after a crunching hit by halfback Charles Anthony. The ball rolled into the end zone, where linebacker Tracey Gravely fell on it for a 39-3 lead at quarter's end.

"There are advantages to playing a team back-to-back," Pringle said. "We were able to study them on film and see how they reacted to us. We knew what we had to do to get better results."

Now if the Stallions could just finish in style.

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