Neither rain, nor penalties, nor dropped passes could prevent the Baltimore Stallions from abusing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Memorial Stadium last night.
Talent has a way of overcoming mistakes, and the Stallions, who made their share of miscues, nevertheless beat Winnipeg with ease, 43-7, before 30,641.
The victory, the third straight for Baltimore (3-1), kept the Stallions in first place in the Canadian Football League's Southern Division.
The Stallions met Winnipeg (1-3) for the first time since the two teams played in last year's Eastern Division championship game 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 threw for 270 yards and three touchdown passes -- two to slotback Chris Armstrong. Running back Mike Pringle rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown, and rookie Chris Wright piled up 284 all-purpose yards to lead the rout.
The game would have been out of hand earlier had the Stallions not held themselves back repeatedly. Their lead was only 15-7 with less than four minutes left in the first half.
"Once again, it was ugly, but it was a win," center Mike Withycombe said.
Baltimore committed 12 penalties for 76 yards. Through the first three quarters, penalties nullified gains that amounted to 151 yards for the Stallions. 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, including three by wide receiver Robert Clark, who failed to handle a 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.
Field conditions played a role in those problems. A thunderstorm hit 45 minutes before kickoff, and a steady rain fell throughout the first half, drenching the field.
It didn't matter, as Baltimore had too many weapons to be held down by even its own slippery hands.
Winnipeg, which has yet to recover from the loss of quarterback Matt Dunigan, only moved across midfield three times. Reggie Slack replaced starter Sam Garza in the fourth quarter, to no avail. Except for one big play, a 60-yard touchdown pass from Garza to Jamie Holland in the second quarter, the Blue Bombers were shut out.
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.
"It was very difficult to throw the ball and run the out [pattern] in the first half. I thought we would get better drainage [on the field]," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "We were shooting ourselves in the foot a lot. We had a ton of penalties. These are things we are going to stress in practice this week."
The Blue Bombers, with a secondary featuring three rookies, stressed man-to-man coverage too much last night, and Ham feasted on it. His 37-yard completion to Armstrong set up the game's first score, a five-yard run by Pringle with 12:29 left in the half. He then connected with Reggie Perry on a 35-yard pass to make it 14-0 with 9:51 left in the quarter.
After Winnipeg had sliced the lead to 15-7, Ham and Armstrong (( teamed up right before the half to give the Stallions some insurance. Three plays after Pringle's 39-yard run moved the ball to the Winnipeg 33, Armstrong beat halfback Darrius Watson in man-to-man coverage on a corner route, and Ham hit him with a 27-yard pass to give the Stallions a 22-7 halftime lead.
Ham and Armstrong then teamed up for the play that broke the game open. Early in the fourth quarter, Armstrong caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Ham to extend the Stallions' lead to 30-7.
That marked Armstrong's sixth multiple-touchdown game in a Stallions uniform.
"You've got certain coverages that you look to go to Chris in, but all of the guys caught balls tonight," Ham said. "Sometimes, they doubled Chris and other guys helped."
Said Matthews: "I was glad to see them [Ham and Armstrong] clicking again, especially on the deep route. Chris ran the deep corner very well. People who continue to play us man-to-man are going to see a lot of that."
The third quarter provided a perfect picture of the Stallions' night.
After Huerta missed his field-goal try, 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 Stallions' 4.
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 his second touchdown pass.
Huerta kicked a 20-yard field goal midway through the quarter to make it 33-7.
Later in the fourth, 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.
On a night when Baltimore committed many mistakes, it still finished its third straight game without a turnover.