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(photo credit: Jay L. Abramoff/AFI)
The co-finalists from last year's Israel Bowl were certainly not expecting such a challenging opening weekend of the 2009/10 Kraft Family Israel Football League, especially since both were facing off against brand-new expansion opponents.
However, the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions and Dancing Camel Modi'in Pioneers were given all the could handle by the Judean Rebels and Beersheva Black Swarm, respectively, before both managed to pull out close victories and keep the IFL hierarchy intact...at least for now.
On Thursday night in the capital, Big Blue managed to overcome a courageous effort from the Rebels - who were playing their first game as a franchise - for a down-to-the-wire 32-30 triumph.
Judea, which was down 24-6 at one point, stormed back behind a stout defense and the free-wheeling magic of QB Joe Martisius. However, Lions' rookie receiver Idan Yaron stole the show in his IFL debut, snagging four TD passes from former Haifa quarterback Itai Ashkenazi, who was also playing his first game in a Jerusalem uniform.
On Saturday night, in the backend of the weekend doubleheader, the defending champion Pioneers were coming off a loss in their only preseason contest. Desperate to avoid consecutive setbacks and get their season off to a winning start, Modi'in found themselves down 6-0, and 14-6 at the end of the third quarter to the inaugural IFL team from the South.
Dancing Camel coach Dan Brunwasser rallied his troops, however, prior to the start of the final frame and QB Tal Brown led a pair of Pioneers' TD drives on two straight possessions to give the club a 20-14 lead that would hold up as final.
Beersheva had a chance in the final minute, when its defense forced a fumble to give Sager Patel and his offense one last opportunity for the tie or win. A Shmuel O'Neil interception on the first play of the drive squashed all hope for the Swarm, and ensured that the only victory they took home from their first ever regular-season outing be a moral one.
The IFL gets back to action this week, when the rest of the teams in the seven-team league open their seasons. On Friday at 10 a.m., in Yoqneam, the Real Housing Haifa Underdogs host the newly-backed Papagaio Jerusalem Kings, while on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m., the Mike's Place Tel Aviv Sabres take on the Pioneers in the first tackle football game to be played at the Hapoel Tel Aviv training fields, next to Wolfson Hospital in Holon.
For more information and a complete 2009/10 season schedule, please visit www.IFL.co.il