(photo credit: Adlai Maschiach)
The top two placed teams in the Kraft Family IFL were in action over the weekend, although only one of them exhibited even a semblance of the form that has them leading the Israeli pigskin pack with the regular season rapidly drawing to a close.
On Friday, in a rain-soaked affair at Kraft Stadium, the Dancing Camel Modi’in Pioneers utterly dominated the host Big Blue Jerusalem Lions 26-2, forcing six turnovers and finally showcasing the relentless, smackdown defense that saw the club capture the 2008/09 Israel Bowl the last time it faced Big Blue in the capital.
The next night, in a thankfully dry Purim eve special from Holon, the Mike’s Place Tel Aviv-Jaffa Sabres concluded their campaign in style, improving to 9-1 with a 38-12 rout of the Beersheva Black Swarm, who will be left out of the playoffs but still have one final chance next week to notch a maiden victory in this, their inaugural season.
Tel Aviv-Jaffa, which hosted representatives from the Peres Peace Center at the game, had already clinched the No. 1 seed going in and will now have almost three weeks off to prepare for a semifinal match against a still-unknown opponent.
Beersheva continued its recent surge, which has seen the expansion club improve on a weekly basis for almost two months now. If it wasn’t for an early case of butterfingers that plagued the Swarm on their first two possessions – both lost fumbles that resulted in Hammude Kassas touchdown runs – we might have seen a different tone to the game develop.
As it were, though, the men in red took full advantage of five bungled Beersheva balls on the night and rode a pair of scores from both Kassas and Sol Rojhani to their fifth straight triumph after a mid-schedule hiccup to the Lions.
While the Black Swarm tried to pick their spots and make a game of it – and were even given a number of opportunities by an undisciplined Sabres’ effort that led to 79 yards in penalties against – in the end the five lost fumbles is the glaring stat that jumps off the page when looking at the primary reason for the loss and was simply too much to overcome.
Ultimately, as has been borne out in 29 of 33 games thus far in the IFL this season, football is game that is usually won on the turnover battle, a lesson that Big Blue has learned all too well over their past couple of games.
Friday’s putrid performance from the Lions was quite possibly by some measures the worst display of offensive execution from such a talented bunch of players that the league has ever seen.
The Lions have now lost consecutive games after jumping out to a pace-setting 6-1 start. Over the recent mini-skid, they have turned the ball over an unacceptable 10 times and have lost most of the moxie that was built up in the season’s first three months.
The Pioneers now have one game left before the playoffs, in Beersheva this Saturday night against the Black Swarm to close out the IFL regular season. While the hosts will be treating the match as their Super Bowl to try and salvage a victory, Dancing Camel – already assured the sixth seed and a first-round date with the team that finishes in third place – will likely use the opportunity as a tuneup.
They, and the rest of the country, will also have their eyes on the scoreboard for Thursday night’s Jerusalem derby that has wide-spanning implications for the postseason picture. The IFL postseason structure has six of the seven teams qualifying, with the top two seeds receiving a first-round bye and the 3 and 4 hosting the 6 and 5 seeds, respectively, in the wild-card round for a spot in the semifinals.
While Big Blue (6-3) currently occupies second-place, and the Judean Rebels (who finished their season at 6-4) sit in third, a victory by the Papagaio Jerusalem Kings (5-4) over the Lions this week will create a cluster of three teams all tied at 6-4. The complex tie-breaking rules would then force us to look at the best won-lost-tied percentage in games among all three clubs.
This would have the Kings (who lost to the Rebels but would have beaten
Big Blue twice) leapfrog both teams into the No. 2 seed and give them
the coveted week off and free trip to the semis.
In such a scenario, the Lions (who would have beaten the Rebels twice
but would have lost to the Kings twice) would fall to third place and
host Modi’in once again in a daunting wildcard match, while the Rebels
(who have beaten the Kings in the clubs’ only meeting but also lost
twice to the Lions) would drop down to fourth and face the Real Housing
Haifa Underdogs (4-6) for the last spot in the semis.
If Big Blue beats Papagaio on Thursday, all remains as it currently
stands and the Lions would get the bye, while the Rebels and Kings
would host the Pioneers and Underdogs, respectively.
If this all sounds a bit too complicated for you, don’t worry, you’re
just like the rest of us. Just come out and witness firsthand how it
all plays out. Thursday night. Kraft Stadium. 7 p.m. kickoff.
Kings-Lions with it all on the line and enough star-power to light up
the city! You don’t want to miss it!