As the Stallions look ahead to Saturday's Canadian Football League first-round playoff game against visiting Winnipeg, they can glance back at a regular season that not only produced a 10-game winning streak, a 15-3 record and Baltimore's second divisional championship in as many seasons, but loads of impressive individual statistics as well.
Running back Mike Pringle walked away with the league rushing title for the second straight season with 1,791 yards, nearly 500 yards ahead of second-place Cory Philpot of British Columbia. Pringle did it despite sitting out for nearly two games. Pringle's 2,067 total yards from scrimmage also led the CFL, while his 2,387 all-purpose yards ranked fourth.
Rookie Chris Wright's 2,256 return yards broke the CFL record set by Gizmo Williams. Alvin Walton's 34 special teams tackles were good for second in the league. Rush end Elfrid Payton finished second with 18 sacks. Linebacker Tracy Gravely's 83 tackles tied him for second. Slotback Chris Armstrong's 11 touchdown receptions ranked third. Kicker Carlos Huerta led the CFL with 57 field goals, while finishing second in scoring with 228 points.
Then there is punter Josh Miller, who finished the regular season with a 47.7-yard average and a 42.2-yard net average, both tops in the league. He averaged 48 yards on seven punts in Sunday's 24-17 victory against Hamilton, despite a steady 22-mph wind that he kicked into on several occasions. He was at his best in the first half, bailing the Stallions out of poor field position with five punts that averaged 51.6 yards.
"That was a kicker's nightmare," Miller said. "But when you get a game with wind like that, teams are going to set up returns because they don't expect good kicks. Hamilton had two guys back all day. That gave me more time to concentrate on hitting the ball right out of my hand."
Forty-nine of Miller's 118 punts traveled 50 yards or more, compared with 24 last year. Only 18 of his punts in 1995 went for fewer than 40 yards. Miller averaged more than 45 yards per punt in 13 of 18 regular-season games.
Carter stays focused
Defensive end Grant Carter was not around long enough last year to appreciate Baltimore's achievements fully.
Carter signed in October 1994 after attending the San Diego Chargers camp, and went on to play in one regular-season game and all three playoff games -- including the 26-23 loss to the B.C. Lions in the Grey Cup.
Carter isn't a rookie anymore. After missing the season opener with a hamstring injury, he started the last 17 games at strong-side end and finished the regular season with 30 tackles, 10 special teams tackles, six sacks, two fumble recoveries and eight pass knockdowns, which tied him for the team lead.
"This was my first real year of professional football," Carter said. "You always have to be in shape, but I've learned a lot about the mental side of it. Keeping that mental edge is hard, and we have to rely on the veterans for some of that.
"Now, we have to clinch this deal. Being 15-3 is great, but it would be a terrible waste if we didn't take care of business over the next three weeks."
Quarterback Tracy Ham went over the 29,000-yard career mark in passing Sunday. He also threw his 201st career touchdown pass to Gerald Alphin in the third quarter. . . . Payton missed yesterday's practice with flu. . . . The Stallions will hold a pep rally at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Inner Harbor amphitheater. The city of Baltimore will hold a fan appreciation party from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the World Trade Center. . . . Baltimore coach Don Matthews named Robert Clark and Shannon Culver as starters in Saturday's playoff game. Clark missed the regular-season finale with sore ribs, while Culver spent his first game on the practice roster. . . . The backup receiver assignment will be decided between rookies Toby Cates and Mike Cook. . . . Cornerback Irv Smith will return after missing two games with a rotator cuff injury. Linebacker Jason Bryant also returns after serving a one-game suspension for getting ejected against B.C. on Oct. 21.