SAN ANTONIO -- The Baltimore Stallions already know how talented they are, what with All-Canadian Football League players, past and future, scattered throughout their roster. In Saturday's 28-23 victory over the San Antonio Texans, Baltimore learned a lot about its resilience.
Adversity? This game was Murphy's Law visits the Alamodome.
The Stallions began the night with new faces on 40 percent of their offensive line, then lost quarterback Tracy Ham temporarily after he took a hard sack from the blind side midway through the third quarter. And for three quarters, San Antonio quarterback David Archer picked apart the Stallions.
Baltimore's offense was anything but smooth while gaining only 12 first downs, yet it produced enough big plays to help the Stallions come from behind three times. They eventually finished the scoring on Carlos Huerta's fourth field goal with 4:30 remaining, but that set up a scary finish surrounding Baltimore punter Josh Miller.
Miller, the league's leading punter, performed that way for most of a busy night. His 60-yard punt early in the fourth quarter pinned San Antonio back on its own goal line. That led to a safety -- which gave the Stallions a 25-23 advantage -- after a botched snap compelled Texans punter Todd Jordan to kick the ball out of the end zone.
With 30 seconds left and the Stallions leading, 28-23, Miller lined up at his own 45, ready to ice a hard-earned victory with another strong punt. But he inexplicably dropped a perfect snap by Robert Davis, then made a sensational recovery by kicking the loose ball 28 yards down field. On the play, Miller was hit hard below his right knee and hit the turf hard, suffering a concussion. He was carried off on a stretcher.
Baltimore then clinched the win with a final defensive stand. In the fourth quarter, the Stallions shut out the Texans, allowing one first down.
"I got sidetracked, watching [signal caller] Peter Tuipulotu, when I should have been focused on the center, especially at such a critical time," said Miller, who also suffered a bruised knee and a sprained neck but expects to play this week against Winnipeg.
"I was out for a few seconds," Miller added. "I remember lying on my back knowing that no one had run by me, which was good. I thought about how good it was to have a degree. I thought about my parents and my dog. I had no one to blame but myself. Everybody worked their butts off for 59 minutes, and I almost ruined it in two seconds."
Just another problem to overcome, and the Stallions traversed many of them.
Due to a rib injury to center Nick Subis, left guard Mike Withycombe moved into the middle, while rookie John James, activated from the practice roster, started at left guard. Subis could be out another week.
"Those are two big adjustments, especially having a new center," said Ham, who passed for 170 yards and rushed for 18 more. "John James did a real good job, and Withycombe did a good job with the line calls. I was able to go back into the shotgun without any hesitation."
Ham had to be helped off the field after the third-quarter sack. After X-rays revealed bruised ribs, he returned to finish the game. While he was gone, San Antonio took a 23-20 lead on Ramon Anderson's 47-yard field goal.
But backup quarterback Shawn Jones gave the Stallions a lift by moving them 40 yards to set up Huerta's game-tying, 23-yard field goal two minutes into the fourth quarter. Jones, showing excellent poise under pressure, opened with a 20-yard completion to Chris Armstrong.
The Stallions beat San Antonio with even more depth. Rookie Chris Wright, known primarily as the guy who returned punts for touchdowns in his first two CFL games, gave Baltimore a new wrinkle. Filling in for Mike Pringle (125 yards rushing) in the first half, he touched the ball once, but created a 54-yard gain out of a swing pass with some great moves down the sideline. That set up a Ham scoring pass to Reggie Perry.
"I'm already voting him [Wright] Rookie of the Year, even though I don't get a vote," Baltimore linebacker Matt Goodwin said.
The steadiest player during a shaky night was Huerta. A month ago, Huerta was smarting from a deep thigh bruise on his kicking leg, an injury he received playing in a pickup soccer game several weeks before training camp. Two weeks ago, he was furious at himself for missing two of four field-goal attempts in the Stallions' season-opening 37-34 loss to the B.C. Lions.
Huerta finally cracked a smile Saturday night, after putting on a perfect show at the Alamodome by hitting field goals from 41, 37, 23 and 48 yards. He has hit 10 straight field goals, has yet to miss a conversion and leads the CFL with 44 points.
"It's nice to feel like I'm back," Huerta said. "I was embarrassed about coming to camp with an injury, and I was upset after the B.C. game, but I'm in a rhythm now."
NOTES: Baltimore coach Don Matthews was a bit confused after the game. After the play in which Baltimore was awarded a
safety, Matthews learned he could have chosen to keep the ball in a first-and-goal situation at the San Antonio 10-yard line. "I didn't even know they [the officials] had given us two choices, and I didn't know what the choices were. I've never heard of that rule," he said. "I goofed. I chose the wrong thing. In spite of me, they won."