SAN ANTONIO -- Baltimore figured its rematch with San Antonio would not resemble last week's rout over the Texans, and the Stallions got the type of game they expected last night at the Alamodome.
In a contest that was seemingly deadlocked all night, Baltimore overcame a sluggish offense, injuries to quarterback Tracy Ham, center Nick Subis and punter Josh Miller, and a fine effort from Texans quarterback David Archer to escape with a 28-23 victory before 18,112.
The victory gave the Stallions (2-1) a share of first place with Birmingham in the Southern Division. It also gave them a sweep over San Antonio, which beat Baltimore twice as the Sacramento Gold Miners last year.
Baltimore's defense, led by linebacker Tracy Gravely (team-record 13 defensive tackles), shut out the Texans over the final 17 minutes. The Stallions finally won the game on the strong foot of kicker Carlos Huerta, with some help from the Texans' special teams.
San Antonio did the Stallions a critical favor with 9:25 left in the game and the score tied at 23. With his team backed up to its goal line, Texans long snapper Joe Garten botched the snap to punter Todd Jordan, who kicked the ball out of the end zone to give the Stallions a safety and a 25-23 lead.
Five minutes later, Huerta kicked a 48-yard field goal, his fourth of the game and his 11th straight overall, to give the Stallions a 28-23 cushion.
It was a gritty victory. The Stallions scratched Subis from the lineup with sore ribs, moving guard Mike Withycombe to center and rookie John James to guard for his first Canadian Football League start. Then, they lost Ham temporarily in the second half to a rib injury -- Ham returned shortly thereafter -- although backup Shawn Jones promptly moved the team 40 yards and into position for Huerta's field goal that tied the score at 23 early in the fourth quarter.
Finally, Miller went down in the final seconds on a botched punt, on which he mishandled a perfect snap and punted off the ground before taking a nasty fall. He was taken off the field on a stretcher after suffering a concussion. Miller strolled into the locker room after the game to the cheers of his teammates. He is expected to play next week.
"When you don't play as well as you can, and you find a way to win on the road, that says a lot about the character of your football team," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "We did not play our best football. There's a lot of things we can improve on. But we found a way to win."
"The hardest thing to do in football is to play a team back-to-back," said Ham, who took a blind-side hit from San Antonio linebacker Tommie Smith midway through the third quarter, staggered off the field and into the locker room for X-rays, then returned to finish with 14 completions in 26 attempts for 170 yards.
"But in order for us to be a legitimate contender, we have to find ways to win games like this. I think we realize that, and we did that tonight."
The victory was neither easy nor pretty. Although they accumulated 355 yards and did not commit a turnover for the second straight game, the Stallions had trouble sustaining drives from the outset. They finished with only 12 first downs to the Texans' 19, while Archer was brilliant, recognizing the Stallions' man-to-man and zone coverage alignments beautifully while completing 24 of 38 passes for 334 yards.
Baltimore simply hung in with a resilient defense, Huerta's kicking, Miller's punting and an offense that produced enough big plays to offset Archer's proficiency and a tenacious San Antonio defense.
The teams were never separated by more than seven points. Baltimore running back Mike Pringle, who rushed for 125 yards on 12 attempts, set the tone on the game's second play when he broke off an 86-yard run but was stripped of the ball on the San Antonio 5-yard line. Stallions receiver Shannon Culver recovered the loose ball in the end zone to give the Stallions a 7-0 lead early.
Baltimore's offense, hampered by six first-half penalties, promptly went into a shell, while Archer drove the Texans to touchdowns on back-to-back drives. The first one ended late in the first quarter on a 13-yard run by San Antonio running back Mike Saunders that tied the game. Early in the second period, Archer moved the Texans 44 yards in three passing plays, the last a 10-yard strike to Mark Stock that put the Texans on top, 14-7.
The Stallions, who managed six first downs in the first half, responded with another big play. Rookie sensation Chris Wright, who returned two punts for touchdowns in his first two games, filled in briefly and productively for Pringle. Wright took a swing pass and raced 54 yards down the left sideline, setting up Ham's 3-yard scoring pass to Reggie Perry that tied the score at 14.
From there, the game was pretty much a battle of the kickers. San Antonio's Ramon Anderson hit field goals from 29, 37 and 47 yards. Huerta was just a bit better.
His 41-yarder pulled the Stallions into a 17-17 tie at the half. His 37-yarder pushed Baltimore in front, 20-17, with 11:45 left in the third quarter. Then, his 48-yarder sealed the victory.
"I felt I had to keep up with my counterpart," Huerta said. "I didn't want to be outdone. We were playing for first place tonight. It's early in the season, but [the Texans] are probably going to be our toughest competition. We beat them back-to-back, we're getting out of here healthy, Josh is OK, and I feel good about that."