Neither rain, nor penalties, nor dropped passes could keep the Baltimore Stallions from abusing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Memorial Stadium last night.
Talent has a way of overcoming mistakes, and Baltimore, which made its share of miscues, nevertheless dispatched Winnipeg with ease, 43-7, before an announced crowd of 30,641.
The Stallions met the Blue Bombers for the first time since the two teams played in last year's Eastern Division championship in Winnipeg, which Baltimore won to advance to the Grey Cup game.
Last night's game more resembled the 57-10 pounding that Baltimore handed the Blue Bombers last October at Memorial Stadium.
Quarterback Tracy Ham and wide receiver Chris Armstrong teamed up for two touchdowns to lead the rout, which would have been uglier had the Stallions not held themselves back repeatedly.
Through the first three quarters, the Stallions committed nine penalties for 61 yards, although those fouls cost Baltimore 151 yards that were nullified as a result of the penalties. Running back Mike Pringle had the worst luck, when his 70-yard touchdown run was called back in the second quarter.
In addition, the Stallions dropped a handful of passes, with wide receiver Robert Clark checking in with a dropped touchdown pass in the first half. Even kicker Carlos Huerta, who had converted 10 consecutive field goals coming into the game, missed a 35-yarder in the third quarter.
It didn't matter, as Baltimore had too weapons to be held down by even its own slippery hands.
The Stallions scored the game's first 15 points, took a 22-7 lead at the half, then shut out the Blue Bombers in the second half while running off 18 unanswered points.
The third quarter provided a perfect picture of Baltimore's night. After Huerta missed his field goal, which became a single after the kick wasn't returned from the end zone, the Stallions' Chris Wright -- who performed brilliantly again on special teams -- returned a missed Winnipeg field goal 50 yards, but the run was nullified by an illegal block by O.J. Brigance, bringing the ball back to the Baltimore four.
The Stallions eventually punted, and closed out the quarter with a 23-7 lead.
Then, Baltimore opened the fourth quarter with an impressive flurry. Wright broke off a 61-yard punt return to set the Stallions up at the Winnipeg 21. Two plays later, Ham hit Armstrong for an 18-yard touchdown pass, the third time they hooked up last night.
It also marked Armstrong's sixth, multiple-touchdown in a Baltimore uniform.
That gave the Stallions a 30-7 lead 75 seconds into the second half, and it was obvious the Blue Bombers had no chance to come back. Huerta kicked a 20-yard field goal midway through the quarter to make it 33-7. In the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Shawn Jones added another touchdown, when he hit Shannon Culver with a 10-yard pass with 3:53 left.
Huerta added a 28-yard field goal with 15 seconds left to finish the scoring.
It took the Stallions only two possessions to assert themselves.
Baltimore took the opening kickoff and marched 60 yards in five plays to put Winnipeg in a 7-0 role. Ham started the drive with a seven-yard completion to Reggie Perry. Pringle then ran for 11 yards to the Winnipeg 42.
From there, Ham overthrew Chris Armstrong on what would have been a touchdown pass over the middle. On the next play, the pair hooked up and got it right, as Armstrong burned corneback Ken Burress easily, caught Ham's pass near the left sideline, and ran the last 15 yards to complete a 37-yard touchdown.
Carlos Huerta kicked the convert, and with 12:29 left in the first quarter, the Stallions led, 7-0.
Baltimore's defense went into the attack mode quickly, in the form of rush end Elfrid Payton. On first down, he burst into the backfield and dropped running Mike Oliphant for a three-yard loss. On the next play, Payton shed two Winnipeg blockers, and hit quarteback Sam Garza from behind, causing a fumble,which linebacker O.J. Brigance scooped up and returned 10 yards to the Winnipeg 25.
After Ham's 24-yard pass to Shannon Culver was called back by a holding penalty, Ham teamed up with Perry, who found a gaping hole in the middle of the Blue Bombers' pass coverage. Perry juggled the ball at the five-yard line, then gathered in his 35-yard touchdown reception at the goal line.
With 9:51 to go in the quarter, the Stallions had a 14-0 lead.
Two possessions later, the Stallions padded their lead, despite wide receiver Robert Clark dropping a deep pass from Ham down the middle that would have resulted in another Baltimore touchdown. But Stallions punter Josh Miller came through with a tremendous punt.
Punting from inside the Baltimore 40, Miller sent a soaring spiral down to the Winnipeg 10, where Allan Boyko let it bounce into the end zone, before recovering it. That gave Baltimore a single, increasing its advantage to 15-0, and it gave Miller credit for an 80-yard punt, the longest this season in the league.
Baltimore's first-half performance was perfect by no means, as the Stallions were hit with a rash of penalties. Early in the second quarter, a holding violation cost Pringle a 70-yard touchdown run, infuriating Pringle, who tore off his helmet in the Winnipeg end zone.
If the penalties didn't get the Stallions' attention--they were flagged seven times for 55 yards in the first half--the Blue VTC Bombers did on their next possession.
Winnipeg drove 75 yards in seven plays, the biggest a 60-yard pass play from Garza to Jamie Holland, who split two Baltimore defenders near the left sideline and sprinted the final 45 yards for the score.
That marked the first touchdown by a Winnipeg receiver this year, and it pulled the Blue Bombers to within 15-7 with 3:51 left in the half.
The Stallions responded swiftly. Pringle, behind a great block by left guard John James, bolted for 39 yards to the Winnipeg 33. Three plays later, Ham and Armstrong teamed up again. This time, Armstrong beat Darrius Watson on an out pattern, before hauling in Ham's perfect, 27-yard strike just inside the .
That gave Baltimore a 22-7 halftime lead.
The Blue Bombers managed only 10 yards rushing in the half. Nearly half of their 145 total yards came on their lone scoring play.