Israel Football League: Still tight at the top

It's still a two-horse race in the Kraft Family Israel Football League, although the pack seems to be gaining ground quickly and will likely be heard from again before it's all said and done. On Thursday, the Dancing Camel Modi'in Pioneers brought a four-game winning streak to the capital to face the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions and didn't give an inch in the face of a tenacious effort by the hosts, coming out of the tightly-fought skirmish as 16-6 victors. On Saturday night, in the first game this season at the Maccabi Sports Complex, the Real Housing Haifa Underdogs bent but did not break under fierce conditions in Kiryat Shalom, maintaining their half-game lead on the Pioneers atop the standings with a 30-28 nail-biter over the Mike's Place Tel Aviv Sabres. The real winners this weekend, however, were the fans, who were treated to a pair of the hardest-hitting, well-played and entertaining football games the country has ever seen. Coming off dominant shutout performances last week, the two league-leaders were severely tested this time out, staving off stiff challenges by the Lions and Sabres, respectively, two teams in desperate need of a victory. The Lions' loss brings the club's record to 2-3 and below .500 for the first time in franchise history. The Sabres played their best all-around game of the season, scoring in every quarter and getting two chances in the fourth to mount potential game-winning drives against Haifa. However the first-place Underdogs were just a little too much for the still-winless Tel Aviv squad, which sits at 0-5 in the IFL basement. Points were hard to come by in Thursday's Lions/Pioneers encounter at Kraft Stadium. Big Blue was unable to capitalize after forcing two Modi'in turnovers, hitting the brick wall that was the Modi'in defense on seven consecutive possessions. A back-and-forth first half produced no points and the teams entered the interval locked in a scoreless chess match. On its first drive after the break, Modi'in opened the scoring when all-purpose star Asaf Katz plunged into the endzone for a one yard touchdown and an 8-0 lead after Tomer Edri danced over the goal line for an extra two points. Jerusalem would valiantly stay in the game with an unconverted touchdown of its own make it a two-point game, at 8-6. But a 10-yard scoring dart by Uri Schiff to receiver Ben Gross would return the lead to Modi'in for good. The fourth-quarter would see Jerusalem try to mount a comeback, but the 10-point deficit wouldn't be dented and the Pioneers bled out the clock en route to their fifth straight victory. While Thursday`s game was decidedly defensive-minded, Saturday night's affair had a little of everything. In fact, the 16-6 final result in the weekend's first match was only the end-of-first-quarter score in the Underdogs/Sabres clash on a wet field in Kiryat Shalom. Down 30-14 at the interval, Tel Aviv stormed back after the half with two more scores and a defensive tenacity that would yield no more points allowed. The entertaining and furious comeback attempt, however, fell just one conversion short of their foes from the North and the Sabres will have to wait another day to get on board in the win column. The Kraft Family IFL returns to Yokne'am this week as the Blue Sun Music Jerusalem Kings (1-4), the only team not in action last week, travel to face the Underdogs. Kickoff will take place on Friday at 10a.m. at the Yokne'am Soccer facility.