Hammers outduel Underdogs, secure final berth

Here come the playoffs: Rebels, Lions grab convincing wins.

The Kraft Family IFL regular season closed with a cross-country tripleheader over the weekend as six of the eight teams were in action, trying to get in their last knocks before the impending playoffs.
On Thursday night in Kfar Tavor, Leo Bloom’s Herzliya Hammers completed an improbable expansion journey into the postseason with a dramatic 22-16 victory over the Real Housing Haifa Underdogs.
In the only meaningful affair of Week 16, the Hammers traveled up North knowing that anything but a loss by six points or more would send them to the dance. Nevertheless, things got tense for the visitors, who trailed 8-0 at the half and 16-8 at the start of the fourth quarter.
However, late touchdowns from Roy Rubinstein and Shabby Shavit were enough to overturn the deficit and propel the first-year franchise into the playoffs, where they will visit the Dancing Camel Tel Aviv Pioneers this Friday in the North Division wild-card.
“No matter what happens from here on out, this is definitely a successful season in my book,” said Herzliya coach Yossi Rabenu as he watched his team celebrate on the field after the contest.
“Anything else is icing on the cake, but you never know, bigger surprises have happened in sports.”
Indeed, Friday afternoon almost saw such an upset as the Papagaio Jerusalem Kings gave the heavily favored Judean Rebels a run for their money before humbly falling in a 74-34 fourth-quarter run-away to conclude their campaign.
At one point, the Kings were rallying for the lead in the final frame, with a golden first-and-goal opportunity and the Rebels nursing a slim six-point advantage. In the game’s turning point, however, Jason Hess picked off Papagaio QB Eli Skolnik and took it back 60 yards to turn a potential Kings’ lead into a 14- point Rebels margin, and from there it was all over.
Alex Swieca strengthened his MVP bid with six TD tosses and 179 yards through the air in an 11-21 passing performance for Gush Texas in the victory.
The next evening down South, his transcendent effort was matched by Itay Ashenazi, who led his Big Blue Jerusalem Lions to a 66-26 pounding of the Travel Leaders Beersheva Black Swarm.
Ashkenazi continued to light up opposing defenses with surgical precision, throwing for 218 yards and six touchdowns and only missing on five attempts all night long.
All in all, the Big Blue offense was certainly clicking on all cylinders against the Swarm, in its only full-throttle game action in more than a month before they host a semifinal in two weeks’ time.
On Saturday, Idan Yaron nabbed four scores, while Or Jupiter, Binyamin Schultz and Dani Schachter were also beneficiaries of their signal caller’s sixpoint gifts. Matan Lavi ran in another two scores as the Lions finished the season with the league’s best record at 9-1.
Brandon McDougald was one of Beersheva’s only bright spots, scoring three of the team’s four TDs, and he will be counted on heavily this Thursday when Travel Leaders travels to the capital to take on the Rebels in the South Division wild-card clash, with the winner earning a date with the Lions.
With the Kings and Underdogs left out of the playoffs, the Lions and Tel Aviv/Jaffa Sabres are the only two other teams not in action this weekend. As first-place finishers in their respective divisions, both defending Israel Bowl participants earned a first-round bye, which they will use to get back to full health before hosting do-or-die games for a trip to the finals.