The antidote to the Baltimore CFLs' red-zone blues was in the offense already.
L It was the improvisational ability of quarterback Tracy Ham.
Throwing for one touchdown when he was stacked up at the line of scrimmage and running for another on a rollout, Ham gunned the CFLs to a 40-24 victory over the mistake-prone Shreveport Pirates last night before 31,172 at Memorial Stadium.
Playing with a heavily taped right ankle that he sprained a week ago, Ham threw for three touchdowns and 320 yards in his most productive performance this season.
He completed 22 of 35 passes, but none was bigger than the 1-yard bullet he rifled to slotback Shawn Beals in the third quarter with Baltimore holding a 19-17 lead.
Facing third-and-one on the goal line, Ham went to his "scatter" offense with four backs lined up behind him.
But when he tried to sneak over the right side, he was met by a swarm of Shreveport defenders. As two wrapped their arms around him, Ham straightened and unleashed a pass to Beals in the end zone.
With arms raised, he pirouetted to midfield in joy.
"We don't want to make a living off that play," Ham said, "but I was alert, and Shawn was alert. I saw the defense relaxing and just threw the ball. Anything can happen in the CFL."
That play broke Shreveport's back and kept the Pirates (0-3) winless in the Canadian Football League. Baltimore cashed in two fourth-quarter Shreveport fumbles for touchdowns to win going away.
The victory moved the CFLs (2-1) into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Division.
The Pirates turned the ball over five times, resulting in 22 Baltimore points.
A week after they failed to reach the end zone on four trips inside the 20 yard line, the CFLs capitalized on every opportunity last night. They produced four touchdowns and a 21-yard field goal by Donald Igwebuike in the red zone.
Ham accounted for Baltimore's first rushing touchdown of the season in the second quarter, when his 14-yard run put the CFLs ahead to stay, 12-7.
He set up the play by showing a screen pass to Mike Pringle to the right, then reversed direction and raced untouched to the left corner of the end zone.
"They were overreacting to the screen pass to Pringle," Ham said.
L On the previous play, he passed to Beals for a 52-yard pass.
Ham finished up with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. He flipped a 2-yarder to fullback Peter Tuipulotu with 10 minutes left to open a 33-17 lead, then found Walter Wilson in the end zone for a 15-yarder that made it 40-17.
Ham said he had no difficulty with the ankle he injured in a 42-16 loss to the Calgary Stampeders a week ago.
"My ankle was fine," he said. "If I suit up, I'm going to play. The only time you're not banged up is the first game. After the first game, you always get nicked. You just go out and play with injuries."
Ham rushed five times for 47 yards, complementing a ground game headed by Pringle, who gained 67 yards on 13 carries.
Pringle had a scintillating 19-yard touchdown run in the third quarter when he broke four tackles. He ran through two would-be tacklers at the 10, then dragged two more to the goal line.
That gave Baltimore a 19-10 lead and came one play after nose tackle Jearld Baylis forced a turnover.
Baylis tackled scrambling Shreveport quarterback Terrence Jones and striped the ball. Defensive halfback Matt Goodwin caught the ball on the run and returned it 15 yards to the 19.
That set the tone for the second half, when Shreveport committed four of its five turnovers.
Led by defensive tackle Robert Presbury's three sacks, the CFLs sacked Jones five times. Baylis had one sack and two forced fumbles, and O. J. Brigance had his second sack of the season.
"We didn't do anything special," Baylis said. "We did run some stunts and we ran them well, and it paid off for us. Other than that, it was just that everybody played so well."
Including outside linebacker Jesse Becton, who recovered two fumbles in his first pro start, and halfback Charles Anthony, who made a one-handed interception reaching behind him in the first quarter.
Shreveport didn't get a first down in the first 11 minutes, and didn't cross midfield until the final minute of the first quarter. But the Pirates' drive ended there with Anthony's interception.
Jones produced the Pirates' only meaningful offense of the first half with a 33-yard touchdown pass to David Lucas. When Stan Petry was guilty of the no-yards penalty on punt coverage -- he didn't give the returner the required five yards -- Shreveport's Bjorn Nittmo kicked a 56-yard field goal with no time remaining at the end of the half.
Shreveport got a gift third-quarter touchdown when Petry fumbled a punt in the end zone and Damascus, Md., native Don Caparotti recovered for the Pirates on the 1. Jones scored on the next play.
Tom Muecke closed out Shreveport's scoring with a 35-yard pass to Tony Moss in the final minute of the game.