Three Week 1 games, three riveting outcomes. Now that’s what I call an eye-opening opening-weekend!
The Kraft Family IFL regular season took flight on Thursday night in the capital, with the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions doing just enough to eke out a 26-24 victory over the Gush Texas Judean Rebels.
It was a similar result on Saturday night in the league’s first-ever Tel Aviv derby, when the reigning champion Arthur’s Tel Aviv/Jaffa Sabres somehow held on for a nailbiting 28-26 triumph over the Dancing Camel TA Pioneers.
As if those two weren’t enough, the Travel Leader Beersheva Black Swarm’s 34-14 conquest of the Papagaio Jerusalem Kings in the back-end of Thursday’s doubleheader was perhaps the performance that stole the show, as Tal Avivi, Koren Cohen and Co. led an offensive clinic that paced the second- year club to its maiden victory as a franchise.
It was indeed the Black Swarm who led the weekend’s six teams in total yards with 323 – it wasn’t even close – as Avivi shredded the Kings’ defense in his IFL debut, completing 28 passes to seven different receivers for 251 yards and a record-tying five TDs through the air. Cohen was a one-man highlight reel as well, hauling in 11 balls for three scores and 151 total yards while bowling over would-be tacklers almost at will.
The pair of teammates split the Mike’s Place Player of the Weekend award, but the real prize was seeing the glow coming off the faces of the entire Beersheva team as it boarded the bus back home at 1 a.m.
“I’ve been in the IFL for four years on three different clubs,” exclaimed defensive back and captain Amit Benvenisti. “This is the first time I ever won a game at Kraft Stadium. I feel now we’ll be back for a couple more. This is what it’s all about.”
It was an encouraging full team effort for the new-look Swarm, who got notable contributions from Tal Assor, Brandon McDounald and Chen Doron, but they shouldn’t expect it to be a walk in the park all of a sudden, as the competition throughout the IFL this year looks to be fierce as ever.
Mrs. Myra Kraft’s opening toss kicked off Thursday’s dramatic showdown in the electric atmosphere of a packed Kraft Stadium, as the Rebels jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the first quarter on a pair of Joe Martisius TD passes.
Big Blue, forced to start Binyamin Schultz at QB with an ill Itay Ashkenazi sidelined, regrouped as the half wound down, with veterans Yoni Cooper, Gani Medad and Avigdore Moore getting the Lions on the board with a sack for a safety that Schultz followed up with a touchdown to cut the deficit to just four going into the break.
The teams traded scores –- and the lead –- in the third quarter on touchdowns by Or Jupiter and Boris Safaniev, before Aryeh Bauman came in and held down the fort with a pair of fourth-quarter TDs that provided the winning points, helped out by a pivotal fumble recovery by Eyal Lapidot.
Alex Swieca hit Martisius on the fly for a 56-yard scoring strike with under two minutes left, the receiver niftily switching shoulders with the ball mid-air to snag it and keep the crowd on the edge of their seats. However, the Rebels were denied on the potential-game-tying two-point conversion and the Lions would sneak away with the tight win.
The theme of missed conversions was one that reared its head again on Saturday night, when the Pioneers and Sabres dueled neck-toneck in a mobbed Wolfson, each team reaching the endzone four times, with the Sabres converting twice and Dancing Camel coming away empty.
Even an interesting Pioneers safety – when Joe Glickman completed a pass to an ineligible Saud Kassas from out of his own endzone – only provided the new Tel Aviv club with two more points, leaving them agonizingly close to pulling the upset on the road.
The Sabres, like their Israel Bowl counterpart Lions, looked primed to be beaten, even after holding a 10- point lead at 22-12 late in the second quarter on a pair of scores from incumbent MVP and brand-new Sabre Jon Rubin.
Incoming Pioneers’ QB Chaim Schiff showed what the offseason hype was all about, connecting with Yoni Rubin and Ben Gross on nice scoring passes. However, he was consistently flushed out of the pocket by the Sabres defenders – usually Jenya Privalov or Eitan Ben David – and was only able to complete four of his nine throws on the night.
The Pioneers definitely showed more pep in their offense, with Jason Gosnel and Tal Brown gouging the TAJ defense for large chunks of yards. But at the end of the day, it was Arthur’s who found a way to win after things looked bleak.
Pavel Ezrohi – who was all over the field, and statsheet – in his first IFL contest, recovered a muffed free kick to start the fourth quarter after the Pioneers had nosed out to 26-22 advantage, and five plays later, Adi Hakami hit fellow fourth-year Sabres vet Liran Hovav from 18-yards out for the decisive points.
Israel Sports Radio was on hand for all three weekend games and provided online radio coverage for all who could not attend in person.
The two teams that weren’t in action, the expansion Theodor’s Herzliya
Hammers and the Real Housing Haifa Underdogs are raring to get their
season’s started this week, the Underdogs visiting the Rebels on
Thursday and the Hammers hosting the Kings on Saturday night.
If there is one thing to take away from the first three matches of
2010/11, it’s that there are no easy dates on the schedule for any team
this year. All around the league, acrossthe- board improvement was
evident. The passes seemed crisper, the hits seemed harder, the coaching
seemed keener, the tension seemed more taut.
Wanna know the best part? It’s only Week 1; we’re just getting started! For more information about the IFL and tackle football in Israel, please visit www.ifl.co.il