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Stallions on guard in rematch

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SAN ANTONIO -- The Stallions taught San Antonio a few lessons in last week's 50-24 blowout at Memorial Stadium, but Baltimore quarterback Tracy Ham, the best player on the field that night, warned yesterday against dismissing the Texans too quickly, as the Stallions prepared for tonight's Canadian Football League rematch at the Alamodome.

"It was a physical, tight game until right before the half, and I think we caught some breaks," said Ham, referring to the Stallions' three-touchdown run in the final five minutes of the first half that gave Baltimore a 27-10 lead at the break.

"We did well in some areas, but we didn't dominate them," Ham added. "There are some things we want to do offensively that we weren't able to do. We made some big plays, but we need to move the ball better. This will be a good test for us."

The Stallions passed last week's test in every phase. Their defense held running back Mike Saunders, the CFL's leading rusher, to 29 yards, sacked quarterback David Archer four times and frustrated Archer with some fine zone coverage that took away the short passes Baltimore figured the Texans would try. Most of Archer's 348 passing yards came long after the game had been decided.

Offensively, the Stallions -- who lead the CFL with 84 points -- were impressive over the game's last 35 minutes, scoring 44 points. Ham ran for one touchdown, passed for two more and accounted for 290 yards of offense. Mike Pringle rushed for most of his 99 yards in the second half.

It was the first 25 minutes that brought a frown to Baltimore

coach Don Matthews' face. By late in the second quarter, the Stallions had managed only six points, while Josh Miller had punted five times.

"A lot of times, we're one block away from taking big ones with our running game," Matthews said. "Pringle is in there running hard, but sometimes there is a minor breakdown. We're not getting into the secondary enough."

Look for Baltimore to pound the Texans early with Pringle again, hoping this time to establish a running game and take some pressure off Ham. And expect San Antonio to counter with a defensive scheme that stresses containment of Ham in the pocket, rather than relying on the blitzes and stunts the Texans threw at the Stallions futilely last week.

Baltimore made a similar adjustment last week. After rushing five or six people and getting beat in man-to-man coverage on short passes by British Columbia in their season opener, the Stallions went to a four-man rush against the Texans, leaving eight defenders back in pass coverage.

Archer, who lacks mobility and was forced to hold the ball for too long too often, was ineffective.

"We've got a few wrinkles to change from last week," San Antonio defensive end James King said. "We're going to make sure that Tracy Ham and Mike Pringle aren't the ones who beat us this week."

And the Stallions say they're going to make sure they don't fall prey to a false sense of security in the rematch.

For one, tonight marks San Antonio's home opener, which figures to create an emotional edge for the Texans, at least early. Secondly, Baltimore is spending most of the season's first two months living on the road, where it will play six of its first nine games. The Stallions' first road test didn't go so well in Vancouver.

Nothing would please Baltimore more tonight than to return a favor to the Texans. Last year, as the Sacramento Gold Miners, they swept Baltimore.

But, as Ham said, a win on the road against anyone is what the Stallions need right now.

"We have a tough road schedule, and we have to learn to play well on the road," Ham said. "It's tough playing a team back-to-back. It was only the second game of the season, but we had to win that game. Now, they [San Antonio] are ticked off, and everybody wants to protect their own backyard. This is a real important game for us."

NOTES: Center Nick Subis, who has been bothered this week by sore ribs, will start tonight. . . . Cornerback Gary Wilkerson, signed two weeks ago to replace the injured Karl Anthony, will get his first start for Baltimore tonight. . . . Offensive lineman John James will be activated, replacing Guy Earle, who will be put on the two-man reserve list. . . . LB Maurice Gravely was activated off the practice roster, replacing Jason Bryant, who will miss at least one game with a broken finger. . . . A Stallions victory would give Matthews his 112th, moving him into fifth place on the all-time CFL list. . . . Tonight's game will be televised by ESPN, marking only the second time a CFL game has been shown live on the all-sports network.

Stallions vs. San Antonio

Site: Alamodome, San Antonio

When: 8 tonight

TV/Radio: ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)

STALLIONS-TEXANS TONIGHT

Site: Alamodome, San Antonio

Time: 8

TV/Radio: ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)

Line: Stallions by 6

Last week: The Stallions beat San Antonio, 50-24.

On the sidelines: Baltimore's Don Matthews is 111-67-1 in 11 CFL seasons, and would move into fifth place on the all-time CFL list with a victory tonight. San Antonio's Kay Stephenson is 16-21-1 in three CFL seasons.

What the Stallions have to do to win: Play as they did last week, especially on defense. Offensively, the Stallions could take control earlier with a more consistent running game.

What San Antonio has to do to win: Find a way to keep Stallions QB Tracy Ham in the pocket, avoid turnovers and get RB Mike Saunders into the offense more.

Injury report: Stallions -- C Nick Subis (ribs) will play; LB Jason Bryant (finger) is out. San Antonio -- WR David Gamble (knee) and RB Phil Brown (knee) are out.

Outlook: The Stallions can move into first place in the Southern Division with a win, and this would be an ideal time to prove to themselves that they can win on the road. They are healthy, and they are getting excellent production from Ham, Pringle, WR Robert Clark, RE Elfrid Payton, LB O.J. Brigance and kick return specialist Chris Wright. If that group performs as it did last week, the Texans should go down in their home opener, although probably not in a rout.

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