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Huerta, Stallions top B.C., 28-26 Last-minute field goal staves off Lions rally


Haven't we seen this act before?

Two weeks ago, Carlos Huerta kicked a short field goal in the final seconds to help the Baltimore Stallions beat Saskatchewan in come-from-behind fashion.

Last night, Huerta was at it again. His 20-yard field goal with 11 seconds left rescued the Stallions from an upset, lifting Baltimore to a 28-26 victory over British Columbia before 33,228, the largest crowd at Memorial Stadium this season.

The Stallions (14-3) won their ninth straight. They handed the struggling, injury-riddled, defending Grey Cup champion Lions (9-8) their fifth consecutive loss, although the game was much closer than expected.

Baltimore was coming off a bye week. The Lions were coming off four losses in which they had surrendered an average of 39 points. They were missing a handful of starters, including quarterback Danny McManus, who led the Lions to their season-opening, 37-34 defeat of Baltimore.

And yet, after taking a 17-3 lead late in the second quarter, the Stallions found themselves trailing 26-25 after B.C. running back Cory Philpot (108 rushing yards) scored his second touchdown of the quarter on a 7-yard run with 2:22 left.

"I was disappointed it was that close," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "We made some plays early that kept them in it. Offensively, we were not sharp, and sometimes that happens after a bye. Our timing wasn't good. But we seem to find a way to win, and that shows character on our part."

The game took some troubling turns early for Baltimore. Quarterback Tracy Ham struggled, missing open receivers and throwing seven straight incompletions during one first-half stretch. That was before he suffered a mild concussion on a late hit, which preceded his 10-yard touchdown pass to Chris Armstrong that gave the Stallions a 17-3 lead late in the half.

British Columbia gained new life at the end of the half, when Shawn Jones, Baltimore's backup quarterback, attempted an ill-advised pass to Gerald Alphin on the final play. B.C. cornerback Charles Gordon turned that mistake into a 51-yard ++ interception return for a touchdown that cut the Stallions' lead to 17-10 at the break.

The Lions then made a game of it in the second half, as Philpot and quarterback Giulio Caravatta, making his first start of the year, led the Lions to two fourth-quarter scores. Philpot's 7-yard run gave the Lions their first lead of the night.

That gave Ham and Huerta a chance to atone for earlier miscues. Ham, who had thrown an interception to set up B.C.'s first touchdown of the fourth quarter, started the game-winning, 53-yard drive with a 20-yard strike to Robert Clark. Three runs by running back Mike Pringle (98 yards) netted 15 yards, setting up a second-and-five from the B.C. 31. Ham called a quarterback draw in the face of a B.C. blitz, and he rambled for 16 yards and a first down. Two plays later, Huerta trotted out to kick his fourth field goal.

"It was a great call. He [Ham] uses the run when he needs to, and he put us in great position," said Matthews, who reinserted Ham after the quarterback gave him the thumbs-up.

"They left it up to me to make the call [about returning]. I took some Tylenol at halftime, and it seemed to settle down enough that I thought I could play," Ham said. "We've been in that situation before, and when it's time to get it done, we always seem to come through. I don't want to make a living that way, but week in and week out, we seem to get it done."

So does Huerta. He leads the Canadian Football League with 54 field goals, although his 50-yard miss midway through the fourth quarter gave the Lions the chance to take the lead. He returned to split the uprights with the game on the line.

"I was hitting the ball well with my field goals all night," Huerta said. "I let my guard down mentally [on the miss], and I don't think it should have come down to the last one. I'm treating these games as momentum-builders for the playoffs. This is not a successful season unless we win the Grey Cup."

Last night was a rousing success for Armstrong and rookie kick returner Chris Wright. Armstrong, who promised a big game earlier this week, delivered by snaring six receptions for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He went over the 1,000-yard receiving mark for his second straight season, and leads Baltimore receivers with 11 touchdowns.

Wright, who is a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year, was sensational again with 176 return yards. He tied a CFL record by recording his fifth game with at least 100 return yards, and he now has 2,202 return yards this year, which ties the record set by Edmonton's Gizmo Williams.

In the first half, Baltimore's offensive struggles were eased by excellent field position and three Huerta field goals, thanks to the assistance of Wright. His 51-yard punt return in the second quarter set up Huerta's third field goal, a 40-yarder that gave the Stallions a 10-0 lead.

At that point, despite the Stallions' sputtering, it seemed B.C. would not contend, since Caravatta was so ineffective. In the first quarter, he threw an interception and caused a lost fumble on a sloppy handoff to Philpot. Both mistakes led to Baltimore field goals.

XTC Caravatta was benched temporarily, but returned to play a solid second half. On the Lions' go-ahead drive, he completed four straight passes for 47 yards, leaving Philpot to rush for the final 16 yards and a short-lived Lions lead.

Ham and Huerta took care of the rest.

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