Thursday Night Lights in J'lem as IFL season kicks off
If the six preseason games were any indication, the 2010/11 campaign is primed to be one for the ages.
By JERUSALEM POST SPORTS STAFF
The fourth year of the Kraft Family Israel Football League gets under way Thursday, and if the six preseason games were any indication, the 2010/11 campaign is primed to be one for the ages.With the IFL’s now-eight teams split into two divisions for the first time in league history, opening-night in the capital will feature a Southern double-header bonanza, with a pair of mouthwatering matchups to wet the palate for what is sure to be the start of 20 wild weeks of Israeli pigskin.RELATED:Kings, Rebels triumph in exhibition finales Hammer hit the ground running with 44-44 tie The Big Blue Jerusalem Lions – who have been in all three Israel Bowls, albeit with “just” one title – get the action started under the lights at Kraft Stadium on Thursday when they take on the Gush Texas Judean Rebels, who were ousted in the semifinals last season by the eventual champion Tel Aviv/Jaffa Sabres.Both the Lions and Rebels were gangbusters in both their respective preseason contests, combining to go a perfect 4-0 and generally asserting their will against the opposition.Each club brings plenty of offensive firepower into Thursday’s opener, with the Lions spearheaded by quarterback Itay Ashkenazi and his merry band of sure-handed receivers, and the Rebels paced by the always-elusive Johnny Joe Martisius and golden-armed rookie field general Alex Swieca.The question is less about whether each team will be able to find the endzone, and more about how both defensive units will fare in the face of such a heavy onslaught.AdvertisementIn addition, plenty of highlights are sure to be generated on the special- teams front, with the Rebels’ Jon Millar quickly establishing himself as the IFL’s most dangerous kick returner, and Lions’ counterpart Ilya Pittel averaging a league-high 23 yards on run-backs in 09/10.It’s rare that the opening night of a regular season would feature even one such intriguing battle. That the Papagaio Jerusalem Kings and Travel Leaders Beersheva Black Swarm will be clashing immediately following Lions-Rebels in Thursday’s finale adds another delicious layer to the dramatic buildup of the evening.The Kings had a roller-coast run to the semifinals last season before being humbled by their city rivals, the Lions. This year, they are intent on wresting back that Jerusalem crown from Big Blue and got off to a good start with a tight, hardfought victory over the Real Housing Haifa Underdogs in their lone exhibition affair.Buoyed by the sideline presence of incoming coach Hanan Stern and the on-field leadership of veterans Shmuel Weisfeld, Ben Bloch and Ari Wasjbort, Papagaio has also integrated what is sure to become a vital weapon into its offense, with former rugby player David Brummer demonstrating his acumen in the kicking game with a pair of field goals and an extra point in the preseason.That added dimension may throw the Beersheva coaching staff for a bit of a loop as they formulate their game-plan, although Michael Jones and his assistants are more than up for rolling with the punches, as they demonstrated in a large second-half comeback in what ended as a 44-44 preseason bout against the expansion Theodor’s Herzliya Hammers.The Black Swarm are still hungry for their very first regular season victory as a franchise in this, their second year in the IFL and they have fortified their corps of returning players with a number of outstanding new athletes eager to prove their worth.Tal Assor comes in under center with more confidence than ever and with a number of downfield options for him to throw to. Couple that with the grinding running style employed by the Beersheva backs and we could be in for a real late-night dogfight.Saturday evening will feature another scintillating opening-weekend matchup, this one a North Division showdown between the most recent two Israel Bowl champions, the Sabres and the Dancing Camel now-Tel Aviv Pioneers, formerly of Modi’in.Both teams have undergone tremendous roster overhaul since they last suited up for meaningful games, with each excited to unveil its new packages and schemes. That contest will be held in Holon’s Hapoel Tel Aviv training grounds across from Wolfson Hospital, with an 8:45 p.m. scheduled kickoff.The two IFL teams not in action this weekend, the Underdogs and Hammers, will get their campaigns started next week, but will certainly have scouting representatives in the capital on Thursday to catch all of opening festivities.Also, those unable to make it person will be able to catch the live radio broadcast of both matches online at www.israelsportsradio.com With the inimitable Mrs. Myra Kraft to be on hand at the eponymously named stadium in Jerusalem to throw out the first ball, and a musical interlude along with Hatikva to add to the entertainment, it is sure to be a hopping Thursday evening as the IFL returns to the field.Lions-Rebels at 7 p.m. followed by Kings-Black Swarm to top it all off.The rest of the story will be written on the field. For now, just one question remains; are you ready for some football?!For more information about the IFL and tackle football in Israel, please visit www.ifl.co.il
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