Lions lock up 10-0 season; Sabres grab North’s top seed

Things heat up as just three weeks remain in fifth season of the Kraft Family IFL.

IFL 370 (photo credit: IFL)
IFL 370
(photo credit: IFL)
The penultimate weekend of the Kraft Family IFL regular season may have gotten off to a wet start, but it certainly finished with some eye-popping fireworks as one team clinched a playoff spot, another locked up its division and yet another secured the first unbeaten record in league history in thrilling one-point fashion.
Thursday night’s doubleheader weather postponement put a damper on the scheduled four-game slate – and in fact the Versafe Hatikva Hammers were backed into taking a technical loss to the ISD Jerusalem Kings when they couldn’t rally up a roster for Monday’s make-up – however the action got more and more electrifying with each of three games that did proceed, coming to a rousing crescendo with the instant game-of-theyear Tuesday night treat in the capital that saw the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions somehow pull out a 36-35 nailbiter over the rival Talpion Judean Rebels to complete their 10-0 regularseason run of the table.
In the North Division, Nemo’s Haifa Underdogs guaranteed themselves a postseason date in Jerusalem with a 57-6 Friday victory over the first-year Petah Tikva Troopers, improving to 5-4 before a Purim finale in Kfar Tavor against the also-expansion Northern Stars.
Haifa spread the wealth around at Tel Aviv University, with eight different players making trips to the endzone as the Troopers never really recovered from a first-quarter blocked field goal that turned into a Barak Katzir 45-yard pick-up-and-run TD.
It was 44-0 with the game not even 20 minutes old, and although a Chris Daves score got PT on the board, the ‘hosts’ were done in by a pair of pick-sixes (and a third INT returned to the 1) and fell to 0-10 to bring the curtains down on their inaugural campaign.
Saturday night’s Tel Aviv derby at Neve Golan saw the TA/Jaffa Sabres fight back from adversity for the second week in a row to reaffirm their authority atop the North with a 38-12 triumph over the Clal Tel Aviv Pioneers.
The Sabres were buoyed by a scintillating all-around outing from Jonathan Curran, who accounted for four of the six TAJ TDs, including a couple of highlight-reel grabs and a long scoring punt return. Adi Hakami was uncharacteristically errant, tossing four interceptions to go along with his three touchdowns, however he was bailed out by his defense, which nabbed an IFLrecord seven picks of Pio rookie Asaf Gelber, including one taken back for a score by Sabres stalwart Yoni Shohet.
The result ensured the Sabres (9-1) the first-round bye that comes with first place, while the Pioneers (7-3) will have to settle for second and a home playoff game next Friday against either the Kings or Beersheva Black Swarm, who duel in a mouthwatering winor- go-home Sunday night Southern special to finish off the regular season.
With Friday and Saturday’s games in the books, and Monday’s Kings-Hammers match cancelled, the league-wide anticipation was ripe for Tuesday’s rare midweek kickoff between the South’s top two seeds.
Despite both teams’ playoff seeding already set, and a severely depleted Lions’ receiving corps, there was no hiding the fact that both teams really wanted to come away triumphant.
he game began a little sloppily, with Lions’ defensive demon Sean Carano pouncing on an early Joe Martisius fumble and taking it to the house for a quick 6-0 Big Blue lead.
However the defending champs would find their rhythm, capitalizing on a Uri Mangisto pick of Chaim Schiff for their first score and went ahead 8-6 on an ultra-odd but correctly called blocked-XP kick but caught mid-air and run in for two points.Scoring strikes to Elias Metuko and Jaymes Kine saw the Judeans take what seemed like a commanding 21-6 advantage, but Schiff led his troops back, tossing long TDs to Ori Refaleowitz and Matan Lavi to bring the Lions to within a point.
Things were just beginning to get interesting, however.
Martisius quickly drove his team downfield before hitting Tani Kramer from three yards out on the last play of the half to put the momentum squarely on the side of the Orangemen.
A tightly waged third quarter saw the Rebels once again take a seemingly insurmountable two-score lead, 35- 30, on a short TD catch by Zev Aron, but as anyone with any Lions-Rebels experience knows 15 points is well within range, even with time winding down.
Danny Brill energized the Lions attack, surging forward in big chunks of yards and plowing into the endzone just before the start of the fourth, with Tim Cohen’s second two-point convert making it just a seven-point deficit heading into what was a dazzling final frame.
Ultimately, the fourth quarter was marked by three or four specific Rebels’ mistakes that gave away the game. The first, a bad snap that Carano recovered in the endzone for his second defensive TD of the night, still had Talpion ahead by one upon the failed conversion.
With less than two minutes remaining and forced to punt from deep in their own zone, the fateful snap went just over the punter’s head and rolling out back of the endzone for the crucial two needed points and the night’s final score.
The postseason opens next Friday, when the Pioneers will host the winner of Sunday’s Kings-Swarm battle in Beersheva, while the Rebels will entertain the ’Dogs next Saturday night in the capital.
The Lions and Sabres, with byes, will be paying especially close attention to the firstround affairs, as the Lions will host the winner of the Pioneers- Kings/Swarm match and the Sabres take on the Judea- Haifa victor.
Just three weeks left in this fifth season of the Kraft Family IFL, but if this past weekend was any indication of what usually happens when playoff-caliber teams meet with superiority on the line, the fun is just getting started, both for players and fans alike! Buckle up, this postseason ride could get wild!