The Baltimore Stallions brought a new name and a different look into Memorial Stadium for their Canadian Football League home opener last night.
Looking hardly like the team that faltered repeatedly and lost a tough season opener to the B.C. Lions last week, the Stallions pounced on visiting San Antonio with 24 second-quarter points, then rolled to a 50-24 victory before 31,016.
It was a rousing home opener for Baltimore. A day after shedding the Baltimore Football Club for a new nickname, the Stallions erased last week's terrible start in Vancouver by scoring the game's first three points early in the first quarter.
The Stallions were just getting warmed up. Baltimore (1-1) matched up with San Antonio (1-1) in a defensive battle that produced a 3-3 tie after the first quarter, and the Stallions trailed 10-6 early in the second quarter.
But the Stallions took control, first with a stout defense that forced seven first-half punts, then with an offense that quarterback Tracy Ham ignited with his legs and his arm, and finally with excellent special teams work from kicker Carlos Huerta and rookie punt returner Chris Wright.
The game basically came down to the final five minutes of the first half, when the Stallions, behind Ham, burned San Antonio for three touchdowns and turned that four-point deficit into a 27-10 lead at the half.
Ham shook off a shaky start by completing 17 of 25 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns, and he rushed seven times for 57 more yards.
He was a nightmare for the Texans in the last half of the second quarter. In a three-minute span, Ham threw touchdown passes to Robert Clark and Chris Armstrong. On his 18-yard pass to Clark, Ham bought time by evading the Texans' pass rush with some terrific scrambling, before finding Clark wide open in the corner of the end zone with 4:20 left in the half.
That gave Baltimore a 13-10 lead. Three minutes later, Ham found Armstrong over the middle for a 26-yard score to give Baltimore a 20-10 advantage with 1:25 left in the half.
"That's exactly what we bought when we bought Tracy Ham," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "When things go bad, with his athletic ability, he has the ability to make things happen, especially the one where he roamed around and found Robert Clark."
Said Ham: "When you're in a league with a field this size, my ability to move around becomes an important part of our offense. Anytime you're playing against a team and not getting what you want, it's a feeling-out process. We had to make adjustments."
After Ham's heroics, Wright then made the play that broke the Texans, when he slipped two tackles while returning a punt 69 yards for a touchdown with 45 seconds left in the half to put San Antonio in a 27-10 hole.
That marked the second straight game in which Wright ran back a punt for a touchdown. He also set a team record with his 69-yarder last night.
San Antonio cut the lead to 30-17 midway through the third quarter, when Mike Saunders -- held to 29 yards rushing on 12 carries -- scored from a yard to complete a 74-yard drive, the Texans' only long, successful march of the evening. After that, Baltimore scored 20 straight points to put the game out of reach.
The Stallions were sharp in every phase. Ham completed passes to seven different receivers. Running back Mike Pringle rushed for 99 yards. The defense, led by rush end Elfrid Payton (three sacks, one fumble recovery), linebacker O. J. Brigance (seven tackles) and tackles Robert Presbury and Jearld Baylis, bottled up Saunders inside and kept constant pressure on San Antonio quarterback David Archer. He threw for 348 yards, but most of those yards came after the game was a rout.
On special teams, Huerta kicked five extra points and tied a team record by kicking five field goals and set a team record with a 51-yard field goal. Wright turned in another workmanlike effort, returning six punts for 96 yards and four kickoffs for 106.
"You can't make mistakes against them," San Antonio coach Kay Stephenson said. "They played real good defense and put pressure on us. They covered us well all night. They were a good football team last year, and they're a good football team this year."
The news wasn't all good for the Stallions. Offensive tackle Neal Fort left the game in the fourth quarter with possible cartilage damage in his knee. He will be examined today.