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The Haifa Underdogs defeated the Tel Aviv Pioneers 37-14 in the first Israel Bowl, the Israel Football League championship, at Baptist Village on Friday.
Fighting the heat on the first Friday of the summer, the Pioneers and Underdogs - who came into the game the favorite despite their moniker - fought to a scoreless draw in the first quarter.
The Pioneers' spirits were lifted in the second quarter when Yaniv Yaron intercepted a pass, which was followed by an Or Sher touchdown to give the Pioneers a 7-0 lead.
The Underdogs responded immediately as Omer Kadmi scored a TD, and then a safety gave Haifa its first lead of the game (9-7).
In an exciting finish to the first half, the teams traded touchdowns in the final two minutes. As the Pioneers trotted off the field with a slim 16-14 lead, the enthusiastic crowd gave both squads a rousing cheer.
Shortly after halftime, the Underdogs lost key running back Niv Medlinger when he was injured during a play. It looked as though Tel Aviv might pull of the upset, but instead of letting the injury affect their morale, the Underdogs stepped up their efforts and scored 14 unanswered points in the third quarter.
Effects of the heat and humidity surfaced in the final quarter, but Haifa's Roy Ziv was able to put the ball across the goal line one more time to cap the scoring and seal the victory.
"It has been a rough year," euphoric Underdogs captain Ben Friedman told The Jerusalem Post. "No one thought we would be here right now but all the hard effort and work has paid off especially that of coach and quarterback, Ori Shternbach."
The Pioneers made the Underdogs work for the title. "When they scored first, I didn't have a good feeling in my stomach but we all stepped up. We did so again when Niv went off, as well, so full credit to all the guys."
League director Ofri Becker was thrilled with how the league's debut season panned out. "It has been exciting and very special and we look forward to some improvements and changes in the offseason," he said. "Anyone out there who is sitting at home and would like to play [tackle] football should come on down because that's what we're here for."
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