Stallions' defense spreads praise


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Baltimore Stallions halfback Charles Anthony said the credit should go to the defensive line. Linebacker O. J. Brigance, who spent the evening performing well at his old defensive end position, gave the highest praise to the backfield behind him.

The bottom line is that both parts of the Baltimore defense combined on a stellar performance in Saturday's 36-8 rout of the Birmingham Barracudas. It was a show that, besides putting Baltimore (4-1) alone atop the Canadian Football League's Southern Division for the first time this season, solidified the Stallions as the league's premier defense.

The Stallions have surrendered only 21 points in the past 10 quarters.

Birmingham (3-2) entered on a two-game winning streak, having scored 75 points in those victories behind quarterback Matt Dunigan. The Barracudas finished with a bruised run-and-shoot offense that produced only 10 first downs, 11 rushing yards and 150 total yards.

"To go in there and give up only eight points, the defense just did a spectacular job. That was the main part of what happened out there," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said.

"We've got a good defense, and our coaches did a great job of putting together a great game plan with a big-time pressure package."

The Stallions did nothing fancy. They countered Birmingham's one-back, five-receiver set by playing with six defensive backs and one fewer linebacker. They assigned their defensive backs to cover the Barracudas man-to-man all night and relied on a four-man rush to bother Dunigan.

"That's the way most teams will probably play them," Matthews said.

But most teams probably will not succeed as brilliantly as the Stallions did. They sacked Dunigan four times, intercepted him three times -- by three different defensive backs -- and overcame injuries and other problems while doing it.

Early in the second half, Baltimore lost rush end Elfrid Payton to an ejection for fighting after a Baltimore punt return. Later, cornerback Irv Smith departed with some lower back pain, although Smith did return. Cornerback Gary Wilkerson did not return after pulling his left hamstring in the fourth quarter.

No big deal. Cornerback Corris Ervin, just activated off the practice squad, stepped into Wilkerson's spot and played well, knocking down a deep pass as Dunigan tested him quickly. Brigance, originally penciled in to share time with strong-side end Grant Carter, ended up playing in Payton's spot for most of the second half and looked like the rush end who was one of Baltimore's most consistent players last year.

"We have athletes all over the field, guys everywhere who can step in," said Brigance, who sacked Dunigan in the end zone in the fourth quarter for a safety. "A lot of teams can't play that much man defense, but we have guys in the backfield who can cover one-on-one, and that gives us time to pressure the quarterback. That's a real asset."

Anthony begged to differ.

"I give all of the accolades to the defensive line. They made our job easier all night," he said. "With all the receivers they [Barracudas] use, they try to mix you up, get your defense thinking about too many things. The advantage is having a line like we have. It was just our night."

Baltimore's offense didn't exactly take a back seat. Behind running back Mike Pringle's season-high 137 rushing yards and Ham's three first-half touchdown passes, the Stallions scored the game's first 13 points, then rolled up 450 yards. "We executed just like it was drawn up," Pringle said.

Now it's on to the toughest leg of this 10-day road trip for the Stallions, who take on the powers of the Northern Division. On Wednesday, Baltimore will play in Edmonton, then will face undefeated Calgary on Sunday.

"This was a big test for us," Brigance said. "These next two games are really huge."

NOTES: Matthews said he doesn't expect Wilkerson to play Wednesday. He also was upset at Payton for the flagrant foul that caused his ejection. "There's no excuse for it. A bad, bad decision. Certainly, the league will fine him a sizable amount." . . . In their four victories, the Stallions have outscored their opponents, 157-62. . . . Punter Josh Miller averaged 50.1 yards on nine punts and hit punts of 70, 65 and 58 in succession. . . . Linebacker Jason Bryant (sprained ankle) is questionable for the Edmonton game. Irv Smith (back) and offensive tackle Shar Pourdanesh (twisted right ankle) are expected to play.

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