(photo credit: Ofri Becker / IFL)
It was certainly not much fun to be a Jerusalem player this weekend in the Kraft Family Israel Football League...unless getting spanked up and down a field for a couple of hours is your idea of a good time.
On Friday, in the first-ever game of pigskin to kick off in the town of Yoqneam in the Galilee, the Real Housing Haifa Underdogs lambasted the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions, 38-0, in a rematch of last year's Israel Bowl I finalists.
The next night, the Dancing Camel Modi'in Pioneers served up a bagel of their own as they blanked a team for a second straight Saturday, this time feasting on the Blue Sun Music Jerusalem Kings, 28-0.
Both teams from the capital returned home tails 'tween legs after suffering embarrassing shutout losses on the road to the two teams who are quickly emerging as the cream of the crop in the IFL this year. Meanwhile, the Underdogs (4-0) and Pioneers (4-1) continue rumbling right along, each racking up a fourth straight win to sit atop the standings at the season's half-way point with no sign of a let-up on either side.
Friday's mouth-watering appetizer between the Underdogs and Lions (2-2), unfortunately for Big Blue, did not live up to its top-fight billing. The Underdogs continued their ascent to the holiest of football grails - the coveted 'clicking on all cylinders' tag - jumping out to a two-score lead with the game barely three minutes old on the help of some slippery fingers by the Jerusalem ball-carriers, who would lose a total of three fumbles on the day.
Once again, quarterback Itai Ashkenazi led his troops on a steady, efficient attack that earned him Mike's Place player of the game honors, tossing four touchdowns and no picks. Haifa built a 20-0 first-quarter lead that was added to each subsequent frame as the defense stifled the rudderless Jerusalem offense all day, allowing it but one measly first down.
The Lions' quarterbacks had no problems with interceptions either. Alas, most of their throws were five yards clear of any player, their own included. The only bright spot on the day was linebacker Asher Ingbar, who took part in 12 tackles and continued to instill fear in opposing signal-callers with his bone-rattling, and clean, hits.
After losing only one game all of last season, the Lions have now dropped two of three. While injuries and loss of personnel play a huge factor in where the team is at, such is the game of football and no one in the league is shedding any tears over the .500 record of the defending champs.
As for the first-place team from Haifa, it continued to protect the football and play hard, smashmouth defense to go along with its consistent, well-balanced offense. Receiver Shachar Yeshurun and running back Lior Subotnik both scored their fourth touchdowns of the season as the Underdogs dominated the time of possession even while starting all of its drives but one from within Jerusalem territory. All said, it was a good day at the office for the 'Dogs, who have deservedly started to develop a swagger to match their perfect record.
Dancing Camel, too, has reason toâ€¦well, dance, after easily dispatching the Kings under the lights in Modi'in on Saturday night. Never before in the IFL has a unit embodied the true meaning of team as much as these Pioneers are doing. The sum of the parts is greatly outweighing the individual talents on the squad and that is just the way the players like it.
It is no coincidence that the team has outscored its opponents by a combined 70-0 in the past two weeks. The Pioneers have scored at least six points in each of the last 11 quarters (17 of 18 as well) and have let up just 12 points in that same period. They play a platoon at QB, alternating seamlessly between the dually-adept Tal Brown and Uri Schiff. Insightful decision-making on the coaching end is also central to the Pioneers current spot nipping at the heels of the team from the North.
The Kings, now 1-4, have been unable to put points up since losing star receiver Chaim Gross to injury. In almost 100 minutes of his absence, the team, which was known for its kamikaze scoring extravaganzas, has tallied only six ticks on the scoreboard. The lack of a deep threat continues to close up the middle, as well as the short passing lanes for quarterback Joseph Marticius, who struggled once again to find his receivers, many of whom also dropped a number of easy catches.
Tomer Edri of the Pioneers was Saturday's Mike's Place player of the game. He was a sparkplug for his team all night, running eight times for 44 yards, including a 25 yard scamper for a TD, and taking part in two tackles and even blocking a punt.
The IFL is back to action this Thursday night in Jerusalem as reeling Big Blue hosts the red-hot Pioneers at Kraft Family Stadium with a 7 pm start. All fans are welcome to the game, which will feature surprise half-time promotions.
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