'Dogs down defending champions'

Haifa pulls off stunning upset of Rebels; Kings sent packing by Pioneers to open playoffs.

JERUSALEM KINGS receiver Ari Wajsport 370 (photo credit: sportpic)
JERUSALEM KINGS receiver Ari Wajsport 370
(photo credit: sportpic)
The semifinalists are now set in the Kraft Family IFL, and the final four teams standing are not necessarily those predicted.
A pair of quasi-competitive quarterfinals kicked off the playoffs this past weekend, with the Clal Tel Aviv Pioneers and Nemo’s Haifa Underdogs advancing with emphatic statements that should put their next opponents on top-level alert.
On Friday at TA University, the Pioneers overcame both a torrential downpour and a dark-horse foe in the ISD Jerusalem Kings, riding a pair of 100-yard rushers for the second week in a row en route to a 34-6 triumph to earn a semifinal date at Kraft Stadium on Thursday night against the 10-0 Big Blue Jerusalem Lions.
The real surprise of the weekend (and the season) came on Saturday night in the capital, when the defending-champion Talpion Judean Rebels ran into a buzzsaw of an Underdogs squad, whose dominating offensive display left the Orangemen in the dust of what ended as a record-setting 91-47 shootout.
Chris Clark led the way for the yellow-and-black, making five trips to the endzone to neutralize a seven-touchdown performance from Rebels’ QB Joe Martisius.
Barak Katzir had a pair of scores – on a kick return and a pick-six – for Haifa, which also churned out 322 rushing yards, led by 112 from Ran Shani and 92 from Clark.
Whenever a team scores on 12 of its 13 possessions – as the Underdogs did – it’s going to be difficult for its opponent to maintain a fighting chance, and ultimately the Judean defense simply could not remain effective enough to give their offense the opportunity to catch up.
With the scoreline reading 38- 21 in favor of the vistors at the break, Katzir opened the second half with a 59-yard kickoff return for another six points, and the rout was on.
The Underdogs got another score from Shani on a 40-yard burst untouched up the gut and took a 54-27 advantage into the final frame, from which they coasted to the win.
For the Underdogs, a quick one-week turnaround is all they have before a semifinal trip to Neve Golan on Saturday to face the Bourbon Street Tel Aviv/Jaffa Sabres, with the winner earning a spot in Israel Bowl IV.
Friday’s Pioneers-Kings clash began under a steady rain that quickly developed into a fullon deluge.
The Kings could do nothing to stop Kobi Nimrod, who carried the ball five straight times to open the game and give the hosts a red-zone opportunity.
However, the weather, as always acted as somewhat of an equalizer, with the slippery conditions contributing to a fumbled snap that Jerusalem recovered to stem the tide, for the time being at least.
Ilan Bielma took over from there, rushing a dozen times for 113 yards and two touchdowns before the opening frame was over to stake the Pioneers to a 12-0 advantage.
Marshall Mullinax ensured the Kings would avoid the shutout with a one-yard scoring plunge to begin the fourth quarter, but that was as close as Jerusalem would get.
The ground-game package of Nimrod (101 yards) and Bielma (156 yards) were more than enough for the Kings to handle, but Clal will have to expand their passing attack in the semis if it hopes to hand Big Blue its first loss of the season.
Meanwhile, the Underdogs will rightfully revel in their ultra-satisfying conquest of the Rebels. However, they know more than anyone from two mid-season defeats that the Sabres will present a much stauncher challenge and at least an equal effort will be needed to pull off a second consecutive upset.
The Final Four are here. Lions- Pioneers (Thursday 8 p.m. @ Kraft), Sabres-Underdogs (Saturday 8:30 p.m. @ Neve Golan). If there is one thing the playoffs have taught us thus far, predict at your own peril.