Lamenting the few that got away


By all statistical accounts, Baltimore Stallions kicker Carlos Huerta is having an outstanding season.

Huerta leads the Canadian Football League in scoring with 152 points. He leads the CFL with 38 field goals. He has missed only nine attempts, has set a franchise record with a 52-yarder, has made 15 of 19 from beyond 40 yards, and has had a direct bearing on three Baltimore victories.

But no Baltimore player is harder on himself than Huerta. Ask him about the year he is having, and Huerta will frown and talk about the few field goals he has missed.

In an odd twist to his season, Huerta has missed five of 13 field-goal tries in the 30-39-yard range. He also has seen four attempts hit an upright.

"In four years of college [at Miami] and a year in Las Vegas [last year], I think I hit the post four times. I've done it four times already this year," Huerta said. "I feel like I'm being chased by a ghost."

Huerta entered last night's game with a perfect extra-point record in two professional seasons. He has made all 32 conversions this year.

Hard to watch

Baltimore running back Mike Pringle, the CFL's leading rusher who sat out last night's Birmingham game with a tender left hamstring, doesn't like to miss any action. But sitting out against the Barracudas was especially tough for him.

"I consider Birmingham one of the better defenses in this league. They're very physical, and those kinds of defenses bring out the best in me," Pringle said.

Even though Birmingham is giving up 28.4 points a game, the Barracudas did leave a number of Stallions banged up after their last encounter on July 29, a 36-8 Baltimore blowout.

Pringle rushed for 137 yards in that game.

A kick in the standings

One reason that Birmingham has moved into second place in the Southern Division is its improved kicking game.

Birmingham waived kicker Franco Grilla following its sixth game, after he had missed five of his last six field-goal attempts, then signed Luis Zendejas, who made a name for himself a few years ago with the Houston Oilers.

Zendejas has made 11 of 15 field-goal tries since joining the Barracudas.

Bold prediction

Win or lose, the Stallions never are at a loss for confidence, which is typified by coach Don Matthews.

Baltimore, which brought a two-game winning streak and an 8-3 record into last night's game, appears recovered -- injuries to Pringle and offensive tackle Shar Pourdanesh notwithstanding -- from its tough, early-season road schedule.

They are allowing the fewest points in the CFL. Their offense has scored 82 points in the last two victories and the remaining seven-game schedule features five home games and a host of mediocre teams.

No wonder Matthews said, "We see no reason why we should lose another game."

A Stallions streak

In the spirit of Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken and the longest consecutive-games streak in the history of baseball, Stallions middle linebacker O. J. Brigance deserves to be mentioned as Baltimore's other Iron Man.

Brigance has played in 84 consecutive games. He has never missed a contest in five professional seasons.

Brigance is second on the team with 35 defensive tackles.

League leaders

Pringle and Huerta aren't the only Baltimore players who lead the CFL in a statistical category.

Rookie Chris Wright continues to lead the league in total return yards with 1,433 and in punt-return yards with 869.

Punter Josh Miller leads the league in average (46.8) and net average (41.5). Alvin Walton is tied for the league lead with 17 special teams tackles, and rush end Elfrid Payton is tied for the league lead with four fumble recoveries.

Payton is second in the CFL with 15 sacks. The league took away one sack after reviewing tape of Baltimore's 41-14 victory over Toronto last month. Payton thought he had tied a CFL record with five sacks in that game.

For now, Payton trails Memphis end Tim Cofield by two sacks. Don't bet against Payton in that race.

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