In four previous meetings with the Baltimore Stars when the team was in Philadelphia, the Birmingham Stallions lost each time and never scored more than 11 points.
After yesterday's fifth meeting with the Stars, before 14,529 fans at Byrd Stadium, the Stallions still have not scored more than 11 points, but this time they did not care.
Joe Cribbs, last year's United States Football League rushing champion, who was off to a miserable start this season, scored a 10-yard touchdown on an option play with 5:57 left in the third quarter and Birmingham made the points stand up for a 7-3 Eastern Conference victory.
The victory allowed Birmingham to take sole possession of first place in the conference with a 4-1 record, since Tampa Bay and Memphis each lost.
The Stars, who won the USFL championship last year, fell to 1-3-1. Baltimore may have suffered an even bigger loss as running back Kelvin Bryant, the hub of its offense, aggravated the right hamstring muscle he pulled earlier in the week in practice.
Bryant carried two times for 14 yards before heading for the sidelines for good with 10 minutes expired in the first quarter. Coach Jim Mora said he did not know how long Bryant would be out.
Bryant's presence obviously would have helped the Stars yesterday as the rain and muddy turf made points extremely hard to come by in a game that lasted about 2 hours 25 minutes -- incredibly quick for a professional game.
"We were very aware we had never scored more than 11 points against them," said Birmingham quarterback Cliff Stoudt. "We were very aware that in four games we never had a lead on them once, but we held them to only three points at the right time."
Stoudt's audible to set up the touchdown came on a play the Stallions inserted this week strictly because of a defensive alignment they saw on film in which the Stars move their linebackers and defensive end in tight.
On second and eight, Stoudt moved left after taking the snap, quickly reversed direction and pitched to Cribbs.
"We had a trap play originally called, but Cliff said in the huddle if they line up a certain way, be ready to change," said Cribbs, who finished with 85 yards on 23 carries. "As soon as I got the pitch, I knew I was going to score. There was only one man out there, and he had to cover both me and Cliff. For some reason, he went after Cliff."
Mora said the Stars were, indeed, caught unaware.
"We certainly did not expect it," said Mora. "They caught us, and we didn't defend it very well."
The Stars, who had only one first down rushing, had chances to score.
They took the second-half kickoff and reached the Birmingham four after a two-yard, third-down pass from Chuck Fusina to Scott Fitzkee. But that left them one yard short of a first down, and Baltimore settled for a 21-yard field goal by David Trout.
After Cribbs' touchdown, the Stars drove to the Birmingham 31. On second and nine, a play was sent in for David Riley, but Riley went out with a sore ankle. Former Maryland Terrapin Jeff Rodenberger took his place and never controlled the handoff. Don Reese, the former Miami Dolphin who is playing again after serving time for a cocaine conviction, recovered.
"Rodie's our third fullback, but just because he's our third fullback is no reason not to let him run the play," said Mora. "But that hurt a bit."
The Stars had another chance late in the game as they consumed more than five minutes driving to the Birmingham five. On third and goal, Fusina dropped back to pass but was sacked for a 10-yard loss by linebacker Bill Roe.
Baltimore elected to try a 31-yard field goal with 3:46 left and hope it could get the ball back for another field goal, but Trout botched those plans by missing wide left.
The Stars, who received 76 yards on 12 carries from Allen Harvin, never regained possession.
It does not get much better for Baltimore. The Stars' next two games are on the road, including a trip to Houston next week to play the league's only unbeaten team.
"They (the Stars) are basically the same ball club they were last year," said Birmingham Coach Rollie Dotsch. "You look at the league statistics and they're still second or third in just about everything. I think the only difference is their turnover ratio. Last year, they were second in the league to us. This year, they haven't been as successful with turnovers, but they're a good team. They'll be there at the end."
Mora, who said earlier in the week he thought this year's Stars were better than last year's, was not so sure after yesterday's game.
"This was a little bit like our other losses," Mora said. "We had opportunities to get points and we didn't get them. Without Kelvin and our second running back (Bryan Thomas, who is hobbled with a sprained ankle) injured, we aren't as strong, obviously. With Kelvin out, it hurts us, but if we didn't have him, we would still have to find a way to win. We won three games without him last year."
Mora did warn anyone who was ready to count the Stars out.
"Starting 1-3-1 is not a hole you want to be in, especially when you have to play the best team in the league next week," he said. "But it's not a hole you can't crawl out of. It has been done before."