After getting shut down by the Saskatchewan Roughriders last week, Baltimore Stallions running back Mike Pringle promised to deliver in yesterday's rematch at Memorial Stadium.
Pringle, the Canadian Football League's premier runner, meant what he said.
He rushed for 179 yards, including 161 in the second half. And he ripped off sizable chunks of yardage on Baltimore's final drive to put kicker Carlos Huerta in position to kick a 21-yard field goal with five seconds left, giving the Stallions a wild, 29-27 victory before 31,421, the largest crowd here this year.
The fans got their money's worth. They witnessed a contest that featured five lead changes in the final 17 minutes, including four in the fourth quarter.
They saw the Stallions open by playing their worst half of the season. Baltimore, which committed turnovers on its first two possessions -- including a lost fumble by Pringle -- spotted the Roughriders a 17-0 lead before rookie kick returner Chris Wright provided a spark with an 89-yard punt return for a second-quarter touchdown.
All told, the Stallions overcame three turnovers and 14 penalties while surviving a battle of big plays with Saskatchewan, which gave Baltimore all it could handle for the second week in a row.
In the final drive, the Roughriders could not handle Pringle or the Stallions' massive offensive line. And the Roughriders (5-10), whose playoff hopes are fading, could not stop Baltimore (13-3) from winning its eighth straight game to clinch the Southern Division championship and home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Stallions head into a bye week on an exhilarating note.
Beginning tomorrow, the players will get six days off.
"I'm certainly looking forward to it. Six days off is unheard of," quarterback Tracy Ham said. "By no means have we wrapped anything up. That's why you don't see any champagne in the locker room. We understand we haven't done anything yet."
"I'm mentally tired of the game right now," slotback Chris Armstrong said. "Hopefully, with the time off, everybody will get away from the game. The good thing is we've clinched already, and we showed our fans we can come from behind. I'm exhausted."
It was that kind of game, especially in the second half. The Stallions, frustrated by miscues and the passing combination of quarterback Warren Jones (29-for-40, 274 yards, three touchdowns) and wide receiver Don Narcisse (13 catches, 127 yards, two scores), needed nearly three quarters to make up its early deficit.
Wright, who had his biggest day as a pro, started the comeback with his 89-yard punt return late in the first half that cut the Roughriders' lead to 17-7 and stirred the home crowd.
The Stallions kept that momentum going in the second half by scoring on their first four possessions. The first three ended with Huerta field goals, including a 28-yarder that pulled Baltimore to within 17-16 with 4:09 left in the third quarter.
Baltimore then gained its first lead of the day, after rush end Elfrid Payton sacked Jones from his blind side and forced a fumble, which Matt Goodwin recovered at the Saskatchewan 32. An 11-yard run by Pringle set up Ham's on-the-run 26-yard touchdown pass to Gerald Alphin.
One play earlier, Ham had found Alphin in the end zone, but the play was called back by an illegal procedure penalty. On the second try, Baltimore took a 23-17 lead with 2:06 left in the quarter.
That was merely a prelude for a wild fourth quarter in which the Roughriders drew first blood by regaining the lead, 24-23, on Jones' 9-yard touchdown pass to Dan Farthing. That score was set up by an unusual, 60-yard punt return by Terryl Ulmer. As Ulmer fielded the punt, a host of Baltimore defenders stopped to give him a mandatory, 5-yard cushion. Ulmer, from a dead stop, bolted through a gap and down the left sideline.
Later, Wright set up a 32-yard field goal by Huerta by returning Dan Ridgway's missed 45-yard field-goal attempt a team-record 100 yards down the right sideline. Then, with two minutes left, Ridgway's 11-yard field goal gave Saskatchewan a 27-26 lead.
That set the stage for the Stallions' game-winning drive.
"When I looked in the huddle, there were no doubts in anybody's eyes, and that's what I like to see," said Ham.
Starting at the Baltimore 35, Ham hit wide receiver Shannon Culver on a slant-in route for 25 yards. Then it was time for Pringle, who had pounded the Roughriders throughout the third quarter, to take over.
"Once we get on a roll, we're a dangerous team," said Pringle, who carried 18 times in the second half.
Pringle carried five times for 56 yards on the final drive, when even a holding penalty couldn't stop the Stallions. His 18-yard sweep around the right side moved the ball to the Roughriders' 3. Two plays later, Ham took a knee and a 12-yard loss to set up Huerta, who booted his fifth field goal to clinch the divisional title.
"We may need the bye, because we were not sharp at all in the first half," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "They'll come back refreshed mentally, as well as physically. But that was entertaining football. That's what the Canadian Football League offers."
Next for Stallions
Opponent: B.C. Lions
Site: Memorial Stadium
When: Oct. 21, 4 p.m.