WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The Canadian Football League's most prolific single-game passer spotted the Baltimore CFLs 15 points last night, then showed why the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are never out of a game.
Throwing for 312 yards and three touchdowns after Baltimore went up 25-10, quarterback Matt Dunigan brought the Bombers back for an improbable 39-32 victory at Winnipeg Stadium. Dunigan, who two weeks ago threw for a pro football-record 713 yards, was unstoppable down the stretch when Winnipeg scored 29 straight points.
"It was more him than anything else," said Baltimore defensive halfback Charles Anthony. "He's like Tracy [Ham] and [Doug] Flutie. They create things for themselves."
Dunigan created a victory out of a budding rout of the Blue Bombers, who moved into a first-place tie with Baltimore and the Ottawa Rough Riders at 2-2 in the Eastern Division.
A crowd of 22,398 watched him rebound from an erratic first half -- when he was intercepted three times -- to finish with 435 yards and four touchdowns, completing 32 of 52 passes.
"Matt got in a zone and we couldn't get any heat on him," said Baltimore coach Don Matthews. "We need to get more heat than that, and we weren't able to do it."
When Ham threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Shawn Beals three minutes into the second half, Baltimore held a 25-10 lead. But the Blue Bombers scored on their next five possessions, getting four touchdowns and a rouge.
A spectacular 37-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver David Williams got the rally started. After that, Dunigan threw two scoring passes to slotback Gerald Wilcox, covering 20 and 7 yards, and scored himself on a 1-yard sneak. The sneak broke a 25-25 tie early in the fourth quarter, and the 7-yarder to Wilcox proved to be the winner.
Ham got the CFLs within a touchdown in the last three minutes of the game on a marvelous 25-yard touchdown run on third down. And when Baltimore's defense stopped Dunigan for the first time in the second half with two minutes left, the CFLs were 80 yards from a tie.
Two short passes to Mike Pringle pushed the CFLs to their 47. On second down, Ham was pressured and threw incomplete. On third down, with 1:38 left, he threw incomplete for slotback Chris Armstrong.
"I should have called timeout on the last third down," Matthews said. "We weren't quite organized when the music was playing."
With Ham lining up in the no-huddle offense, calling his play at the line of scrimmage, the PA system at Winnipeg Stadium blared loud music. But Ham refused to use the noise as an excuse.
"When I called the play, I had to put the inside slot away from me, and the back had to relay it to him. [But] we got the call in. We just didn't make the play."
Asked if the music was a factor on the play, Ham said, "Obviously, you don't want the music to play, but you expect it to be loud."
Ham completed 20 of 36 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns. He closed out Baltimore's first offensive series of the game with a 27-yard TD pass to Walter Wilson.
The CFLs generated 429 yards in offense, but little of it came in crunch time.
"We seemed to lose momentum [in the second half]," Ham said. "Matt had the hot hand. We went two-and-out early in the fourth quarter and could do nothing.
"It's a lull we're having each week. This week it cost us."
Baltimore intercepted Dunigan three times in the second quarter, but failed to capitalize on the turnovers. The CFLs got a rouge after free safety Michael Brooks' interception gave them the ball at the Winnipeg 47.
Cornerback Karl Anthony snuffed a Winnipeg drive when he intercepted Dunigan in the end zone on a pass intended for Williams. But Baltimore had to punt three plays later.
Cornerback Irvin Smith notched the third interception when he picked off a sideline pass for Williams and seemingly returned it 41 yards for a touchdown.
But O. J. Brigance was called for a holding penalty on the play -- against Dunigan -- and the touchdown was wiped out. Instead, the CFLs took a 42-yard field goal by Donald Igwebuike, who also made kicks of 27 and 30 yards. Igwebuike missed from 50 and 46 yards in the first half.
Baltimore lost another scoring opportunity at the end of the half when Stan Petry returned a missed Winnipeg field goal from deep in his end zone.
Petry returned the ball 48 yards to the Baltimore 33, where he was tripped by place-kicker Troy Westwood.
That's what Baltimore was left with at the end -- a missed opportunity.
"When you're on a roll and get a chance to put teams down, you've got to jump on them," said Anthony. "We just didn't put them away when we had the chance."
The difference in Dunigan's two halves?
"I think the first half he was confused when we took away things he wanted to do," Brooks said.
"The second half, he was throwing to his backs and started to get his confidence. It would have been easy for him to fold the tent, but he didn't."
Said Smith: "He [Dunigan] did the job just like Flutie. He did what it took to win."