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After a wild weekend of semifinal football in the Kraft Family IFL, two teams emerged from the scrum with a golden ticket to the championship game. One will be looking to complete a remarkable single-season turnaround while the other will be trying to defend the title that is still rightfully theirs.
The top-seed Dancing Camel Modi'in Pioneers were tested at home on Saturday night by the Blue Sun Music Jerusalem Kings, but managed to assert control and claim their eighth straight victory in a chippy 38-22 affair.
At exactly the same time, in the capital, the most outrageous finish in IFL history ended in ecstasy for the hosts and agony for the visitors as the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions rallied from being down by 12 with under five minutes remaining to pull out an improbable 24-22 victory over the second-seed Real Housing Haifa Underdogs and book their spot in Friday's final.
Big Blue continued its dominance of the Underdogs at Kraft Stadium, winning for the fifth time in five meeting between the two clubs there to keep its winning streak, now at four and counting, intact.
Aryeh Bauman threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns to Akiva Rindenow, the second providing the margin of victory with two seconds left, and the Lions' defense contributed with a safety and a TD of its own to overcome a courageous effort from Haifa's Itai Ashekenazi in a losing cause.
The defending champions from Jerusalem now have a chance at a repeat when they meet a red-hot Dancing Camel squad this Friday afternoon at Kraft in Israel Bowl II.
The Pioneers, who continue to distance themselves from the club that finished 3-7 last season, rode solid, if not spectacular, performances from pretty much everyone on the field to jump out to a 22-0 first-half lead in their semifinal on Saturday night, an advantage which they would never seriously jeopardize.
While the Kings pulled to within eight and kept on fighting until the end, Modi'in was simply too strong and added to a string of victories that has began four month ago after a loss to the Underdogs in their very first game of the year. Tal Brown and Shmuel O'Neil combined for three scores on the ground and the Pioneers rushed for a season-high 196 yards to power their way into the championship match as a the decided favourites.
Big Blue will be no pushover, however, especially playing in their home stadium, where they have lost only once in 14 tries over the past two years. While the Pioneers won both of the teams' previous meetings this season, each of the games went down to the wire and could have gone either way.
Modi'in thinks it has the Lions' number. Big Blue knows how hard it is for a team to beat a closely-matched opponent three times in one year (recall Patriots-Giants two Super Bowls ago). It all shapes up for a mouth-watering treat of a game to top off an Israel Football League season which couldn't have been scripted any better.
Friday's IFL season-ending doubleheader finale gets under way at Kraft Family Stadium with a consolation game between the Underdogs and Kings at 10:30 a.m. That match, for third place, will be followed by the main event 1:30 p.m. when the Lions and Pioneers face off in Israel Bowl II for the Israeli Football Championship.
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