The Baltimore Football Club last night gave its fans their first glimpse of the team that expects to return to the Grey Cup, and the show produced a slow start with a thundering finish.
With an assist from an Ottawa team that looked like the club picked to finish last in the Canadian Football League's Northern Division, Baltimore opened its exhibition season by combining inspired defense with the strong leg of kicker Carlos Huerta and some fine second-half moments from quarterback Shawn Jones.
The result was a 30-point second half that sparked Baltimore to a 45-11 victory before an announced crowd of 20,642 at Memorial Stadium.
The game, largely a stage on which Baltimore's remaining rookies hoped to make enough of an impression to survive tomorrow's roster cutdown to 55 players, yielded some encouraging performances from first-year players such as rush ends Grant Carter and Jock Jones, along with proven veterans )) like linebackers Elfrid Payton and O. J. Brigance.
They helped Baltimore's defense stuff the Rough Riders all night. Ottawa surrendered nine sacks and produced just 260 yards and 13 first downs.
The Baltimore special teams also made a strong showing. Huerta, obtained in the Las Vegas Posse dispersal draft two months ago, kicked three field goals from long distances and added two singles; punter Josh Miller averaged 45 yards on six attempts.
The offense was another story, at least until quarterback Jones entered for the second half. Veteran Tracy Ham sat out, leaving the attack in the hands of rookie Dan Crowley and Len Williams -- also obtained from Las Vegas -- in the first half.
Baltimore managed only 70 yards and took a modest 15-1 lead at the half, thanks largely to Huerta and Matt Goodwin, who returned an interception 73 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Jones then took a big step toward becoming Ham's top backup with a strong second half. Frustrating Ottawa's pass rushers with his scrambling ability and beating the Rough Riders' blitzing defense with excellent passing, Jones completed 11 of 17 passes for 225 yards and touchdown passes to veteran Chris Armstrong and rookies Brian Oliver and Jeff Johnson. Jones also rushed four times for 42 yards.
"I learned a lot between last year and this year, and I'm just trying to apply it now," said Jones, who was Baltimore's No. 3 quarterback last year. "Somebody told me a long time ago that if you practice to be perfect, it will carry over to your game."
"Obviously, Shawn Jones took control of things when he went in. That's the advantage of having been here," said Baltimore coach Don Matthews. "It's hard to beat Shawn out [for the top backup job], because next week [against Birmingham], Tracy gets three quarters. Shawn solidified the second quarterback position."
Jones gave Baltimore a commanding 25-1 lead in the third quarter by guiding the offense 70 yards in five plays, finishing with a perfect, 46-yard strike to Armstrong to beat Ottawa's blitz with 7:48 left in the third period. He then hit Oliver with 9:19 left for a 33-yard score, giving Baltimore a 32-4 lead. He finished Baltimore's scoring by hitting Johnson on a 25-yard play with 50 seconds left.
"I don't know that it's the roughest introduction you could have," said first-year Ottawa coach Jim Gilstrap. "They [Baltimore] are a good, talented team. We did some good things tonight and some not-so-good things."
Baltimore's defense did most of the good things in the first half, while Crowley (2-for-7, 23 yards) and Williams (2-for-9, 9 yards) struggled running the offense.
The defense held Ottawa to 79 yards of offense in the first half, with some big help from Carter and Jones, who are battling for a starting rush end position.
Jones, who last played on special teams two years ago with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL, came up with three sacks, two special teams tackles and a fumble recovery. He had two sacks in the closing minute of the first half.
Carter was just as impressive. In the first half, he made three special teams tackles, one defensive tackle, and gave Baltimore a first-quarter lift by batting Danny Barrett's pass up in the air. The ball fell into Goodwin's hands in the open field, and he raced down the right sideline to give Baltimore a 10-0 lead midway through the period.
"I played with a lot of confidence tonight. It has to help when you go out and make plays early to help your team, when the offense is struggling," Carter said. "I think a lot of eyes are on me, and I think I made a pretty good showing for myself."