Stallions looking to go out winners Today's game might be Baltimore farewell

November 12, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Back in July, the Baltimore Stallions had a most enjoyable home opener at the expense of the San Antonio Texans. A day after being christened with their new nickname, the Stallions scored three touchdowns late in the first half, igniting a 50-24 blowout.

The following week at the Alamodome, Baltimore worked much harder for its 28-23 victory over the Texans. And the two teams have been watching each other's moves ever since.

Today, they will get a much closer look at each other in the Southern Division championship game. The contest will decide which American team goes north to next Sunday's Grey Cup, and it most likely marks the Stallions' final appearance at Memorial Stadium.

"I knew we would end up seeing San Antonio again. They are a much better team since then, but so are we," Baltimore running back Mike Pringle said. "This team is remarkably relaxed. Everybody is pretty loose, and I think that comes from experience. We know what this team is capable of doing."

After reaching the Grey Cup last year -- becoming the first expansion team in pro sports history to play in a championship game in its first year -- the Stallions (16-3) have done plenty the second time around.

They lost two defensive backs to season-ending injuries early, and have maintained one of the CFL's stingiest defenses. Their offense endured the temporary loss of two starters and an inconsistent passing game, but marched on behind Pringle, the runaway rushing champion for the second straight year.

Through it all, the Stallions have won 11 consecutive games. They are loaded with players who are going through their second postseason together.

But they may have met their match in the Texans (13-6), who are every bit as hot as Baltimore and have battled through numerous personnel changes to reach their first postseason in franchise history. San Antonio comes into today's game having won nine of its past 10.

The Texans started the year with only one familiar face on its receivers corps, and Myron Wise has since been lost to a knee injury. Quarterback David Archer missed four early-season games with a hamstring injury.

Around midseason, San Antonio brought in running back Troy Mills and middle linebacker Maurice Miller -- teammates when the team was still in Sacramento -- after unsuccessful NFL tryouts. They made immediate contributions.

Then, five weeks ago, Mills, kick returner David Lucas and linebacker David Harper were lost for the season during a 38-28 defeat against Birmingham. The Texans, behind Archer and an offense that has averaged 41.5 points during its last 10 games, rebounded again.

"It seems like we've been through about three different seasons," San Antonio coach Kay Stephenson said. "We lost 13 players to free agency, and we were just trying to get some continuity going early. We've had a chance to put things together. We're going to find out just how much we've come together on Sunday."

The game pits two of the CFL's top offenses, and probably will come down to which offense is on the field longer, along with who performs best on special teams.

San Antonio will bank on Archer and an array of solid receivers.

Archer, who has thrown 24 touchdowns and only four interceptions in his past 10 games, has four targets who caught at least 47 passes during the regular season -- receivers Mark Stock, Billy Hess and Joe Kralik, and running back Mike Saunders, whose pass-catching ability could make a huge difference.

The Stallions boast the league's biggest and best offensive line. It opened plenty of holes for Pringle in their first two encounters with the Texans, and figures to control the ball and set up big-play passing opportunities for quarterback Tracy Ham again today.

"I think the key to the game is probably going to be special teams. When we beat them big, it was because we had big special teams plays," said Baltimore coach Don Matthews, recalling Chris Wright's long punt return for a touchdown.

Wright could play a huge role today in the battle of field position. But the difference in that area more likely will be Baltimore punter Josh Miller, who has demoralized opposing offenses all year with a league-leading 47.7-yard average.

The Stallions say they want to say goodbye to their Baltimore fans by winning the Grey Cup.

Said Baltimore slotback Chris Armstrong: "The best way we can show our appreciation is to go out as champions."

Texans-Stallions today

Southern Division final

Site: Memorial Stadium

Time: 2

Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)

Records: Baltimore 16-3, San Antonio 13-6.

Last week: In the divisional semifinals, Baltimore beat Winnipeg, 36-21; San Antonio blew out Birmingham, 52-9.

Earlier meetings: Baltimore swept the Texans on back-to-back weekends in July, 50-24 in Baltimore and 28-23 in San Antonio.

On the sidelines: Baltimore's Don Matthews has a 126-69-1 record in 11 CFL seasons. San Antonio's Kay Stephenson has a 28-26-1 record in three CFL seasons.

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