VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Baltimore Football Club is barely into its second Canadian Football League season, yet ++ the team might want to avoid B.C. Place indefinitely.
Following Friday night's season-opening, 37-34 loss to the B.C. Lions, Baltimore's somber locker room echoed with the painful memories of last November's Grey Cup loss to these same Lions in this same stadium.
This was supposed to be a fresh start for Baltimore. A chance to redeem itself after blowing two double-digit leads before losing to the Lions on the Grey Cup game's final play. A chance to re-establish its CFL presence in a much-anticipated rematch.
What Baltimore did was find more ways to lose another heartbreaker.
"Same situation as last year," offensive tackle Neal Fort said. "We were supposed to come in here and dominate, and we looked sloppy and got beat."
Said rush end Elfrid Payton: "Just like last year, we had opportunities. We've got no business losing to these people. This is ridiculous."
Maybe Baltimore really is as good as advertised, because no team that performed as sloppily as the BFC did has a right to win, which Baltimore nearly did in spite of itself.
Mainly on the strength of its defense, which forced six turnovers and blocked a field-goal attempt -- Payton alone recovered three fumbles -- Baltimore stayed within striking distance throughout an otherwise disastrous first half, which was punctuated by the loss of cornerback Karl Anthony to a serious knee injury. He is most likely out for the season.
The BFC produced only 10 points by halftime, but rallied to tie the score at 17 and 27 in the second half with big plays from its defense, quarterback Tracy Ham and receivers Chris Armstrong and Shannon Culver.
Baltimore's biggest play appeared to come with 2:42 left, with the Lions leading 30-27. Chris Wright bobbled a Lui Passaglia punt momentarily at midfield, then sprinted through a gaping hole up the middle and ran untouched into the end zone to stun the home crowd and give Baltimore a 34-30 lead, its first lead.
The BFC quickly got the ball back, with victory in its grasp. But the ball didn't remain in the normally reliable grasp of Mike Pringle. On first down, Pringle, who had 148 all-purpose yards, fumbled on a run up the middle, and the Lions recovered at the Baltimore 38 with 2:12 to go.
With some daring coaching by B.C.'s Dave Ritchie, the Lions drove 38 yards in eight plays -- seven running plays -- and retook the lead at 37-34 on Cory Philpot's 2-yard run with 15 seconds left.
And still, Baltimore had a chance to force overtime. But after catching a pass from Ham near midfield, wide receiver Robert Clark was forced out of bounds at the Lions' 28 as time expired. If Clark had stepped out around the 40, with two seconds left on the clock, Baltimore kicker Carlos Huerta would have had a chance to tie the game with a long field goal.
"I wish our receiver would have run out of bounds, but one play does not make a football game," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "The bottom line is we didn't play well enough to win, and I don't think we have an alibi for not playing well."
There was plenty of blame to go around. Eleven penalties at a cost of 60 yards didn't help. From a special teams standpoint, Baltimore was mostly terrible, giving up a whopping 312 yards in return yardage. Poor kickoff and punt coverage gave the Lions excellent early field position. They started their first two possessions inside the Baltimore 50, and the Lions took advantage by putting Baltimore in a 14-0 hole.
Baltimore appeared to have a clear advantage on offense, with a bigger, more experienced line and with the veteran Ham weighing in against the Lions' Danny McManus. He was elevated to No. 1 status after spending five seasons as a backup.
The inexperienced left side of his line did a fine job protecting McManus, and his short drops and quick releases frustrated Baltimore's pass rushers, who failed to record a sack. McManus beat Baltimore's man-to-man and zone coverages consistently, completing 25 of 39 passes for 397 yards.
Ham, who completed 12 of 20 passes for 247 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown to Culver that tied the score at 27 on the third quarter's final play, spent much of the game bouncing out of the pocket, in the face of the Lions' blitzes. Baltimore rarely sustained a drive and managed only 10 first downs and 157 yards in a rough first half.
"I don't know if it was as much physical as it was mental," said offensive tackle Shar Pourdanesh. "We were supposed to come back and play like a veteran group, and we played like a bunch of scared rookies. There was always a breakdown somewhere."
Said Ham: "We've got to learn to close these types of games out, especially on the road. But, by no means am I giving up on my boys. There won't be any finger-pointing. We broke down in a lot of phases of the game."
No one broke down more than the defensive backs. Besides losing Anthony, cornerback Irv Smith played most of the second half with an injured shoulder, and halfback Ken Watson went down with a bruised knee late in the game. Their status for Saturday's home opener against San Antonio should be determined by today.
"That's the hand we've been dealt," Matthews said. "We're 0-1, we've got some injuries, and now we have to go back and take a long look at ourselves, coaches and players alike."