If one could script the perfect playoff- opening weekend for a gridiron Hollywood blockbuster, it would still be difficult to top the heart-stopping, pulse-raising action that was just witnessed in a simply spectacular 2012/13 Kraft Family IFL quarterfinals that ultimately delivered a pair of unbelievable upsets.
On Thursday night in the capital, the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions fell to the Talpion Judean Rebels in a 50-42 affair that saw each team hold the lead on five different occasions before the Judean D stepped up and held the Lions off the board in the decisive final frame to eke out the victory.
The next morning in Ramat Hasharon, the ISD Jerusalem Kings and Hasharon Hammers waged what was perhaps the most exhilarating battle in IFL history, with a record 12 leads changes and multiple miracles, capped by a buzzer-beating touchdown by the Kings on the final play of the game to snatch a 40-36 triumph from the jaws of defeat and send the Hammers home for the summer.
The upshot of it all is that 11 teams have now been pared down to just 4, with the top-seeded Bourbon Street TA/Jaffa Sabres licking their chops at the prospect of hosting the Kings in a Saturday semifinal and the second placed Clal Tel Aviv Pioneers counting down to their final-four Friday kickoff against the Rebels.
Those games, however, are still a few days away and at least a little time is needed to relive and get over the excitement of a truly wild-card weekend for the ages.
It must be an odd site for the Lions to see both of their Jerusalem adversaries still playing after their own season is over, and it certainly didn’t look like that was going to be the case in the final minute of Friday’s Kings- Hammers crazy clash.
After a back-and-forth brawl played in the heat of the day, both teams kept on squeezing every last ounce of strength out of themselves as the showdown entered the fourth quarter with the Hammers holding a super slim 30-26 advantage.
After being stalled at Hammers’ 1- yard line on their first drive of the final frame, the Kings relentless D forced a Safety and handed it back to the offense, which scored on the ensuing possession after the free kick on an 8-yard rumble from Paul Guerrero with just under five minutes remaining.
Now up 34-30 and thoroughly exhausted, ISD just wanted the clock to run out and it somehow held Hasharon at bay with a clock-eating turnover-ondowns and got the ball back just after the two-minute warning.
However, the Hammers still had plenty of fight left in them and held the Kings on four quick downs that took less than a minute total. With Jordan Curran sidelined by a big fourth-quarter hit, Kyle Legant was in at QB for the desperate hosts and he bounced a pass off a Kings defender into the hands of receiver Roy Rubinstein for what seemed at the time like the game-saving score with just 48 second left and put the Hammers up by 2.
A kickoff out of bounds gave the Kings the ball at their own 25-yard line and after three fruitless downs, Eli Skolnik found Mike Visseli for a dramatic fourth-and-game 12-yard chain-moving reception along the sideline. An incomplete pass to the endzone left just one second on the clock, and the Kings players and coaches were relegated to full-fledged prayer mode.
Alas, their pious pigskin pleas were answered in divine fashion, with Skolnik taking a high snap and rolling right before flinging a 33-yard hailmary through the outstretched arms of the Hasharon safety right into Guerrero’s gut for the winning score and an awe-inspiring finish.
“This is one that I will remember for a long time,” exclaimed a drained Skolnik, on the verge of collapse and with a smile plastered on his face after his 5-TD victorious effort. “Probably forever!” As will all the Kings, the Hammers and all those who were there to see all of the mind-blowing excitement of the past weekend in the Kraft Family IFL playoffs.
And now, on to the semis! For full Kraft Family IFL standings, stats and schedule, as well as for more information on pigskin in the Holy Land, please visit www.israel-football.co.il