Quarterback Tracy Ham found the answer to the red-zone blues last night when the Baltimore CFLs hammered the Shreveport Pirates, 40-24, before 31,172 at Memorial Stadium.
A week after the CFLs were kept out of the end zone on four possessions inside the 20, they pounded the Pirates for four touchdowns from the red zone.
Ham, playing with a heavily wrapped right ankle from an injury he suffered in last week's loss to the Calgary Stampeders, threw for three touchdown passes and ran for another.
His scoring throws covered 1 yard to Shawn Beals, 2 yards to Peter Tuipulotu and 15 yards to Walter Wilson.
He also ran for a 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter that put Baltimore in front to stay.
Ham completed 22 of 35 passes for 320 yards in his best outing of the season, pushing the CFLs to 2-1 and a first-place tie in the Canadian Football League's Eastern Division.
Baltimore broke open a 12-10 halftime lead with four second-half touchdowns, three after Shreveport fumbles.
Defensive tackles Jearld Baylis and Robert Presbury, and rush end O. J. Brigance led the defensive charge. Baylis forced two fumbles and Presbury one.
Brigance had one sack and pressured Shreveport quarterback Terrence Jones most of the game.
Baltimore's defense dominated the first half much as it did in a 33-18 preseason victory over the Pirates in Louisiana.
Shreveport produced its first first down with four minutes left in the opening quarter on its third series.
The Pirates crossed midfield for the first time on that series, when quarterback Terrence Jones completed a 22-yard pass to Manny Hazard to the Baltimore 40.
But the drive died two plays later when defensive halfback Charles Anthony made a sensational one-handed interception on pass thrown behind him and Hazard, the intended receiver.
Shreveport struck for its only meaningful offense in the second quarter when Jones engineered an 84-yard, seven-play touchdown drive. He threw 16-yard completions to Hazard and Brad Gaines, then found David Lucas open in the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown play.
Lucas beat cornerback Karl Anthony on the pass.
The Pirates added a 56-yard field goal from Bjorn Nittmo -- the longest in the CFL this season -- after time had expired in the first half.
Baltimore's Stan Petry was called for a no-yards penalty covering a punt, giving Shreveport the ball at the CFLs' 49. Nittmo's kick cleared the crossbar by perhaps a foot.
Baltimore's first-half offense was a 14-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tracy Ham and five points from Donald Igwebuike on a field goal and two singles.
Ham, with his right ankle heavily taped, drove the CFLs to the Shreveport 14 on the game's first series. But he had no gain on a first-down run, then underthrew Chris Armstrong on second down. That brought on Igwebuike, who kicked a 21-yard field goal.
On Baltimore's next series, Igwebuike was wide left on a 45-yard field goal try, but Shreveport conceded the single, making it a 4-0 game.
Another missed 45-yard field goal by Igwebuike -- also wide left -- resulted in another single early in the second quarter for a 5-0 lead.
Shreveport struck for its touchdown on the next series, but the lead was short-lived. Ham needed seven plays to get the lead back.
He hit slotback Shawn Beals, running a post pattern, on a 52-yard bomb to the Shreveport 14. Defensive back Don Caparotti, a native of Damascus, Md., was beaten on the play, but made the tackle.
Ham scored Baltimore's first rushing touchdown of the season on the next play. With three receivers to the right, he reversed his direction and ran for the left corner. Getting a block from Armstrong in the end zone, Ham went in untouched.
Baltimore got its second rushing touchdown quickly. Running back Mike Pringle broke four tackles on a 19-yard run one play after Baltimore forced a turnover. Pringle ran through two would-be tacklers at the 10, then dragged two more into the end zone.
The touchdown was set up when nose tackle Jearld Baylis stripped Jones of the ball on a scramble. Matt Goodwin caught the ball on the dead run and returned it 15 yards to the 20.
That gave Baltimore a 19-10 lead. But another special teams mistake by Petry gave Shreveport its second touchdown.
He fumbled a punt in the end zone and Caparotti recovered at the 1. Jones scored on a keeper on the next play to cut the CFLs' lead to 19-17.
Baltimore used a diving 27-yard reception by Walter Wilson to ignite a scoring drive on its next possession. Ham hit Armstrong for 25 yards to the Shreveport 20, then ran 15 himself to the 5.
Pringle ran twice to push the ball to the 1, where coach Don Matthews eschewed the automatic field goal. It appeared Ham had been stopped on a quarterback sneak -- he was in the grasp of two defensive players -- but he straightened up and threw a 1-yard TD pass to Beals.
Arms raised, Ham pirouetted to the middle of the field in glee, and Baltimore had a 26-19 lead.