Elfrid Payton typically wears his emotions on his shoulder pads. And it was Payton, with his fiery demeanor and explosive play, who provided the Baltimore Stallions an early spark from his rush end position in Saturday night's home opener.
The Stallions did so much and did it so proficiently during their 50-24 rout over the San Antonio Texans that it's difficult to pinpoint the key Baltimore moment.
Tracy Ham's second-quarter, 18-yard touchdown pass to Robert Clark -- preceded by some creative scrambling by Ham -- gave Baltimore a 13-10 lead it never surrendered.
Chris Wright's 69-yard punt return just before the half demoralized the Texans, putting them in a 27-10 hole.
Payton made his presence felt much earlier, when he sacked Texans quarterback David Archer for a 10-yard loss that forced the Texans to punt from deep in their end late in the first quarter. That helped Baltimore get the ball back near midfield and take a 6-3 lead on a 14-yard field goal by Carlos Huerta.
It also marked Baltimore's first sack of the season, a welcome sign after the Stallions failed to record a sack in their season-opening loss to the B.C. Lions. The defense, with Payton leading the charge, went on to stuff the Texans for most of the first half, forcing seven punts.
Payton wound up with three of the Stallions' four sacks. On his last sack late in the game, Payton forced a fumble, recovered it, returned it 36 yards and nearly scored a touchdown.
"It felt good to get some sacks. Hopefully, we can keep it going next week," Payton said. "We got fired up for this one. Without a doubt, we played with more emotion."
Why hold anything back? With five of their first seven games on the road, the Stallions badly needed to win their home opener to re-establish their status as the favorites to win the CFL's Southern Division. They promptly pleased the home crowd with an effort that was in sharp contrast to their error-prone performance in Vancouver.
"Getting that first win, no matter where it is, is always important," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "I always feel a little anxiety until we get that first one. The good thing was we had control of the game for most of 60 minutes."
After watching the Stallions whip San Antonio in every phase of ** the game, Matthews is relaxing again.
The offense produced four touchdowns and five field goals, as Ham led the way with 233 yards passing, 57 rushing, two touchdown passes and a 1-yard scoring run.
Running back Mike Pringle added 99 yards. Baltimore did not commit a turnover.
The special teams blocked and covered well all night. Malcolm Goodwin, re-signed last week because of his special teams prowess, made three tackles in that role. Besides Wright's scoring romp, Huerta buried his 2-for-4 effort in the season opener by tying a team record with five field goals, including a 51-yarder, a regular-season team record.
The Stallions scored 47 points over the final three quarters.
Defensively, the Stallions forced three turnovers, harassed Archer constantly, took away the deep pass with tight secondary coverage, and watched linebacker O. J. Brigance control the middle with a team-high seven tackles.
It also was a good night for Baltimore's newcomers. Defensive end Grant Carter, making his first CFL start, recorded three tackles and a sack. Courtney Griffin, starting in place of injured cornerback Karl Anthony, had two tackles and covered well. Even cornerback Gary Wilkerson, signed last week to take Anthony's roster spot, intercepted a fourth-quarter pass in the end zone.
Even the injury news was good for Baltimore yesterday. The team feared that offensive tackle Neal Fort might have suffered cartilage damage in his right knee early in the fourth quarter, but tests have revealed a swollen knee that should not prevent Fort from making his next start. Halfback Ken Watson left the game with a sore back in the fourth quarter, but he's fine as well. The same goes for offensive guard John Earle (finger).
The Stallions move on to San Antonio next week to complete the first of their four home-and-home series.
"I told them that it's real difficult to sweep if you don't win the first one," Matthews quipped. "We're going to approach this next one like it's a brand-new game, not the back end of a doubleheader. We've got to put this one behind us."
NOTES: Wright leads Baltimore with 313 all-purpose yards. Wright also made two tackles on special teams against San Antonio. . . . With Saturday's victory, Matthews tied Bob O'Billovich for fifth place on the all-time CFL victory list with 111. . . . Payton has three sacks and three fumble recoveries. His three sacks cost San Antonio 27 yards in losses. . . . Josh Miller continues to punt well. He averaged 45 yards on six attempts against the Texans.