Kelvin Bryant, who had sat out the past three games because of a pulled hamstring, rushed for two touchdowns and the Stars' defense intercepted four of Matt Robinson's passes to give Baltimore a 26-17 U.S. Football League victory over the Portland Breakers yesterday at College Park.
"Thank God for our defense and No. 44," Stars Coach Jim Mora said.
Antonio Gibson's 50-yard return of an interception and Bryant's 82-yard run gave the Stars a 14-0 lead in the first quarter that became 20-7 by the half. The Breakers (3-6, 0-5 on the road) never really caught their breath again.
"It was 14-0 before we blinked," Portland Coach Dick Coury said.
Still, the Stars tried to give it away, with two fumbles -- one setting up a touchdown -- and an interception in the second half. But the defense came up with two second-half interceptions and Bryant, who stopped for frequent breathers, finished with 185 yards on 25 carries, his second best day as a pro.
"My hamstring felt fine," he said. "I just ran for daylight."
The victory left the Stars' record 4-4-1 at the midpoint of the season. "It's a win that puts us back in the hunt," Mora said. "Had we lost, it would have put us further behind. We just want to hang in there."
The Stars could have put the Breakers away in the first half, but didn't. The offense stalled on three second-quarter drives that led to David Trout's field goals of 42 and 22 yards, as well as a 47-yard miss.
"The ones that concern me are the ones down close," Mora said. "I thought we should have had a couple more TDs."
That left an opening for Portland, and midway through the third quarter Garcia Lane fumbled a punt return on his 11. Isiah West recovered for the Breakers, and on second and seven at the eight, Robinson hit David Bayle over the middle to make it 26-14.
Portland's biggest threat came in the opening moments of the fourth period. On third and 12 at the 50, Chuck Fusina, who completed eight of 17 passes for 100 yards, was blindsided by defensive end Robert Brannon and fumbled. Marcus Marek recovered for Portland at the Baltimore 39. But on first down, Robinson threw his third interception, this one to Mike Johnson.
Fusina threw an interception with 5:34 left, Joe Restic picking off the pass intended for Ken Dunek at the Baltimore 45. But the Stars' defense held. Robinson was sacked for 10 yards by Johnson, and backup Doug Woodward threw incomplete on fourth and 20 as he just missed being intercepted for the second time. He had thrown an interception at the end of the first half to stop a drive.
Bill Hardee had the final interception, on first and 10 at the Portland 11 with 2:11 remaining, killing the Breakers' last drive of the day. Robinson completed 13 of 32 passes for 212 yards.
"It's tough to start a game when you're seven points behind right from the start," said Robinson. "You can't afford to make a lot of mistakes against a good defensive football team. The bottom line is they played well and we didn't. Maybe it was because of them we didn't play well."
The Stars had opened the second half with a 69-yard drive that took 17 plays and six minutes. It culminated in Bryant's second touchdown, a three-yard run that made it 26-7. He swept around the right side and vaulted for the score. A fake-kick extra point attempt failed.
How valuable is the Stars' running game? They have failed to rush for 100 yards in four games, and lost all four. Bryant missed 2 1/2 of those games.
"He's our ace," offensive guard Irv Eatman said. "When he's in there he pumps us up."
The 82-yard run came on Bryant's second carry since returning, and on the Stars' first offensive series after Gibson gave them a 7-0 lead with his interception, one of two the Stars had in the first half.
Starting at the Stars' 20 with 8:17 left in the quarter, Bryant lost two yards on his first carry. But on second down, Fusina dropped back and, under pressure, half lobbed and half pitched the ball to Bryant. Guard George Gilbert blocked defensive back Lyndell Jones, and Bryant turned the corner and ran 82 yards. Fusina's throw was ruled a lateral, making it the longest scoring run in the Stars' history.
"They had a blitz," Bryant said. "The inside linebacker came, and it was clear sailing. I saw Gilbert knock him inside and I went outside. I knew then I was gone."
Trout made a 42-yard field goal when a drive stalled on the next series at the Portland 26 two minutes into the second quarter for a 17-0 lead.
The Stars' 14 points in the first quarter tied their high for the season. In three of their last four games, the Stars had managed only a field goal by halftime. They had scored 14 points against the Los Angeles Express in the fourth quarter two weeks ago to win, 17-6.
Coming into the game, the Stars had scored 136 points, the lowest in the Eastern Conference and third lowest in the league.
The Breakers' only offense of the first half came on Robinson's bomb to Lockett after Trout's field goal had made it 17-0. On first and 10 from his 15 with 12:42 remaining in the half, Lockett beat Lane at midfield and outran Lane and Gibson for the touchdown.