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(photo credit: Renata Rivkin)
Thirty-five games down, six left to go.
And if the previous four months were any indication, we are in for a heck of a ride in the playoffs.
The curtains closed on the Kraft Family IFL regular season with a pair of nail-biting contests that had vastly different implications. In the weekend opener from the capital, the Papagaio Jerusalem Kings jumped out to a 10-0 lead and withstood some fourth-quarter Aryeh Bauman heroics to pull it out 18-12 and snatch second place from their city brethren at the time that matters most.
On Saturday night in the South, the host Beersheva Black Swarm became the first team in league history to record a winless season, falling to 0-10 to wrap up their inaugural campaign with a courageous 20-14 defeat at the hands of the Dancing Camel Modi’in Pioneers.
While the Black Swarm opened the scoring with the only TD of the first frame to give the energetic home crowd reason to believe that their boys would finally crack the victory column, ultimately Beersheva couldn’t overcome a pair of Tal Brown interceptions and a couple of Yotam Kushnir touchdowns, the second of which stuck the hosts in a two-score hole that proved just a bit too deep to dig out of.
Koren Cohen threw two 13-yard scores to Mitch Birtner in addition to his untimely picks and the Swarm outgained an opponent for just the second time all year. Certainly the signs of progress were self evident in every single snap compared to some of the early-season debacles, however the plight for the a maiden victory will have to wait another seven months as Beersheva is now relegated to watching the playoffs from the sidelines.
The Pioneers (4-6), who were successful in a second consecutive match and enter the postseason on a high note, notched their second 20-14 conquest of the expansion Swarm to fittingly bookend their opening-night W and now have less than a week to prepare for a first-round contest this Friday against the Lions, who were thrashed 26-2 by Dancing Camel a mere fortnight ago.
That loss for Big Blue was sandwiched by a pair of six-point setbacks to the Kings that saw the Lions plummet from a top perch in the standings at 6-1 to their final position as the No. 3 seed, earning them a rematch with Modi’in for a spot in the semis.
On Thursday, a safety off a Big Blue muffed punt and turnover that the Kings’ Leib Bolel manufactured into eight points on a bruising tackle-breaking 14-yard TD run staked Papagaio to a 10-0 lead that would hold up until the fourth quarter. The manchild known as “the Animal” immediately injected life into Big Blue’s sails when he came in to replace the ineffective Ben Lemberg, demonstrating how he took the club to both Israel Bowls to date. The newly-groomed 36-year-old came into the game slinging, and a broken bootleg 12-yard patented Bauman power-scramble for an unconverted TD and a 2-yard scoring strike to Amichai Bergman quickly saw the leads change hands at 12-10 Lions.
Kings QB David Jesselson would come through in crunch-time, however, throwing a right-on-the-money, over-the-shoulder fade to T.J. Williams, who corralled the ball into his expansive grasp just as he crossed the goalline for the game-winning score. The Lions had one more desperation drive in them, but Rubin – who was shadowing Yaron for much of the fourth quarter – skied to pick off hail-mary attempt and the Kings clinched the season sweep of Big Blue with a couple of kneels.
Papagaio, which was at one point sitting at 1-3, has now won three consecutive games and five of its last six to finish the campaign with a 6-4 record and enter the playoffs with a head full of steam.
Combine that with a lethal threat like Rubin that they can unleash on
either side of the ball – and the fact that they will be rested for
their semifinal bout – and it is very clear that the Purplemen will be
a very tough out in March.
Joining the Kings in the postseason on-deck circle are the Mike’s Place
Tel Aviv-Jaffa Sabres, who ran away from all their rivals with a 9-1
record, a full three games ahead of the trio of second-place teams.
Both the Kings and the Sabres will be riveted to this weekend’s pair of
first-round playoff matchups that are sure to be wildly entertaining as
well as ultra-competitive toss-ups.
On Thursday night at 8 p.m. the Judean Rebels (6-4) host the Real
Housing Haifa Underdogs (4-6) in the 4 vs 5 pairing, while on Friday at
noon the Lions and Pioneers meet again in 3 vs 6 clash that is primed
to be much closer than that. Both games are taking place at Kraft
Family Stadium in Jerusalem and plenty of great seats still remain.For more information and a complete playoff schedule, please visit www.IFL.co.il