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In a thrilling finish that had fans screaming on their feet, the Israeli women's team came out on top of the European Flag Football tournament, with a stunning come-from-behind 136 overtime victory. The win earned the team a firstplace finish in the 33-team, seven-nation "Sparkhassen Big Bowl" this past weekend in Germany.
The 13-6 victory in the finals was scored over the top-seeded and previously unbeaten Austrian Amazons, in front of some 1,000 enthusiastic spectators.
The Israeli women trailed the Austrians 6-0 with under three minutes left to play, and the Austrians had the ball and were driving toward the Israeli end zone. But when Estie Bernstein picked off a pass to give the offense one more chance to score, QB Shana Sprung drove the team down field and threw a clutch touchdown strike to Jessica Sagoskin, sending the game into overtime.
In the extra-period - when each team has the ball from mid-field for one set of plays - Israel took first possession.
Yael Freedman caught a TD pass and Israel made the conversion to take their first lead, 13-6. The Austrians then took over and were moving the ball downfield, but a spectacular interception in the end zone by Emily Neilson clinched the victory, and sent Israel to the podium for the gold medal.
"It was probably the most amazing and satisfying win we've ever had," said coach Yonah Mishaan. "To see the fans in Germany overwhelmingly support the Israeli team was just a beautiful thing to watch."
Earlier in the tournament, the same Austrian team soundly defeated Israel 130, handing the Israelis their only loss.
The women opened the six-team women's tournament with three straight shutout victories. Due to Sabbath observance, the Israeli women's games were all played on Sunday, so the games were played in rapid progression. The Israeli firstround wins came over the German Pink Panthers 24-0, the French Le Havre Salamandres 19-0, and 39-6 over the Austrian Bingen Bucs Bunnys.
Israel rolled through the semi-final, beating the Salamandres 19-0, despite the absence of star quarterback Shana Sprung. A diabetic, Sprung was unable to continue playing due to her dangerously high bloodsugar reading. Yael Freedman filled in ably at quarterback to start the game, but Sprung re-entered the game in the second half to spark the offense, before tossing the winning touchdown to Freedman.
For the men, it was a disappointing 6th place finish as they were beaten in the quarter-finals 32-26 in sudden-death, double-overtime by the Italian Champion Cleaver Bandits. The men were then beaten by the Austrian champions 27-26 on the last play of the game, to finish a respectable sixth out of 27 teams in the tournament.
In the preliminary round, the Israeli men swept through their group with four victories and no losses, while compiling the best point differential in the tournament. Israel opened with a 21-0 shutout over the Dortmund Devils, followed by a 27-6 victory over the Franken Knights, trounced the IImenau IImroosters 39-6, and nipped the host Walldorf Wanderers 20-19. The team then advancing unblemished into the final-16, nipping the Franken Knights 19-12 to reach the final eight.
The "Sparkassen Big Bowl" is the largest flag football tournament this year in Europe. Some 30 teams from eight German states and seven European nations took part in the tournament held in Walldorf, south of Frankfurt.
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