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Defense may plug Stampeders' holes


Maybe the Calgary Stampeders are not invincible after all.

Granted, the Stampeders (13-1) remain the class of the Canadian Football League, with the Northern Division championship nearly in the bag. Their offense barely has missed a beat since quarterback Jeff Garcia took over seven weeks ago for Doug Flutie, whose season ended last month with elbow surgery. They are still on track to win 17 regular-season games, which never has been done in the CFL.

Lately, though, Calgary's armor has sustained a few dents. In their last two victories, over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (43-39) and Toronto Argonauts (26-19), the Stampeders have needed to come from behind late in the fourth quarter. Winnipeg and Toronto have a combined record of 7-22.

How to explain the close calls? The Stampeders were facing inferior, albeit inspired opponents, much like the Saskatchewan Roughriders team that put a scare into the Baltimore Stallions on Sunday. Not having injured halfbacks Gerald Vaughn and Kenton Leonard for either game didn't help.

Regardless, those near-slips probably have Calgary fans wondering if the Stampeders are headed for another late-season swoon. In 1993 and 1994, Calgary took the league's best record into the playoffs, only to fall in the divisional finals.

The thinking here is the Stampeders will make it back to the Grey Cup title game next month, with the defense leading the way. Led by players such as linebacker Alondra Johnson (team-high 55 defensive tackles) and cornerback Marvin Coleman, Calgary has allowed only 24 touchdowns this year, including just three on the ground. They lead the CFL in rushing defense, having allowed 58 yards per game, and are averaging more than three sacks.

Coleman leads the Stampeders with nine pass knockdowns and six interceptions.

Offensively, the Stampeders' passing game, led by Garcia and receivers Allen Pitts and David Sapunjis, remains the CFL's best. But as colder weather approaches, the Stampeders will need a more productive running game to make it through the playoffs' first two rounds.

Calgary ranks eighth in the CFL in net rushing yards, and running back Tony Stewart has cracked the 100-yard barrier only once this year. The Stampeders' running game got a big lift from Garcia in the Toronto victory, when he rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown. That marked the first time a Calgary quarterback had gained 100 yards since Flutie did it 15 months ago.

Pirates packing?

The speculation that the Shreveport Pirates will leave after the season -- Milwaukee is the most-mentioned possibility -- continues to grow.

Two weeks ago, owner Bernie Glieberman kicked off a season-ticket drive. By Oct. 20, Glieberman wants his season-ticket base increased from 5,800 to 15,000.

Halfway through the drive, the Pirates are refusing to release any sales information. Why the silence? Could it be that the numbers are too embarrassingly low to announce?

Tragedy in Memphis

The Memphis Mad Dogs were dealt a tragic blow last weekend when defensive back David "Junior" Robinson was killed in a car accident in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he lives, during Memphis' bye week.

The Mad Dogs will honor Robinson at the beginning of Sunday's game against the visiting Ottawa Rough Riders. Their defense will start the game with only 11 players. After one play, a minute of silence will be observed in memory of Robinson. The Mad Dogs will then add the 12th man to their defense -- Jamie Redmon, Robinson's replacement.

"Junior was one of the most well-thought-of people on our team, a nice man," Memphis coach Pepper Rodgers said. "We've had some emotional talks about this. It puts everything in perspective."

Et cetera

In four weeks, the Edmonton Eskimos have gone from fourth place to second in the Northern Division, having swept British Columbia back-to-back with a 39-36 victory in overtime on Sunday. The Eskimos have forced a league-high 68 turnovers. . . . If Birmingham intends to make the playoffs, the Barracudas must beat the visiting San Antonio Texans on Sunday. Birmingham has won only one of four games against American teams.

The road to 2,000

Baltimore running back Mike Pringle, who set a CFL record last year with 1,972 rushing yards, needs three big games to reach the 2,000-yard mark. Pringle, who leads the CFL with 13 rushing touchdowns and 1,486 yards, needs to average 171 yards in Baltimore's final three regular-season games. Pringle has rushed for more than 100 yards on seven occasions this year.

Here is how Pringle fared against Baltimore's final three opponents earlier this season:

... ... ... ... ... ... ... Att. ... .... Yds. ... TDs

Saskatchewan ... ... ... .. 19 ... ... ... 72 .... 2

B.C. ... ... ... ... ... .. 21 ... ... ... 82 .... 2

Hamilton ... ... ... ... .. 31 ... ... ... 201 ... 4

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