Peaking Pioneers hand Sabres second defeat

Gush Texas Judean Rebels dispatch the Travel Leaders Beersheva Black Swarm 56-36.

TA Pioneers 311 (photo credit: Adlai Maschiach)
TA Pioneers 311
(photo credit: Adlai Maschiach)
Week 15 in the Kraft Family IFL featured a game apiece from each division, with the Gush Texas Judean Rebels traveling to Meitar on Friday and dispatching the Travel Leaders Beersheva Black Swarm 56-36, before the Dancing Camel Tel Aviv Pioneers eked out a 20-18 home victory on Saturday night over the Arthurs’ Tel Aviv Jaffa Sabres in the regular- season finale for both clubs.
The weekend opener saw a matchup of two teams who will be facing each other again to open the playoffs, and if this one was any indication, the rumble in the capital in less than two weeks’ time will be nothing short of electric.
On Friday, Joe Martisius and Alex Swieca each took a half at the QB reins for Gush Texas (7-2), combining for 217 yards and five touchdowns through the air, with four different Rebels’ receivers hauling in scoring catches in the 20- point triumph, which through the first half seemed to be shaping up as a nail-biter.
Zach Miller was the sparkplug for the victors, rushing for 66 yards and four TDs, while also picking up a fourth-quarter scoring reception to take the game out of reach.
Beersheva’s Brandon McDougald had a kickoff return for six points for the fifth contest in a row as well as notching another score among his 124 total yards.
However, a pair of lost fumbles by the usually sure-handed star was just too much for his team to overcome against the vaunted Rebels, who were without a number of ailing starters for this encounter.
Koren Cohen ran for a pair of touchdowns and tossed another for the Swarm (3-6), while Michael Swieca caught a couple of long scoring strikes from Martisius on the Rebels’ side.
Saturday’s always-exciting derby at Tel Aviv University brought out the best in the defenses of both the Pioneers and Sabres.
In a back-and-forth game that never featured a lead of more than six points in either direction, the Sabres were done in by a crucial late turnover that allowed the Pioneers to claw back and snatch the victory.
“We really feel that we are peaking at exactly the right time,” exclaimed Pioneers coach Eddie Kirk, whose team won 7 of its final 8 games after getting off to an 0-2 start to the campaign.
“There is still another tough game to go, but we really hope we have a chance to meet these guys again in the semifinals to settle our city’s bragging rights once and for all.”
Shmuel O’Neil was once again the star of the game for Dancing Camel, scoring two touchdowns, including the game-winner with less than a minute left, but he had plenty of help from his teammates.
The Pioneers (7-3) picked off Sabres QB Adi Hakami three times, with returning linebacker Micha Solomon taking one of those interceptions all the way back for a touchdown.
In addition to Solomon’s huge night (12 tackles, sack, pick-6), Jason Gosnel filled the statsheet with six tackles, a blocked punt and a bat down, while Sagan Zavelo racked up 11 tackles and Ron Moscona had a number of key breakups and the game-clinching interception.
For the Sabres (8-2), Dan Wasser, Tal Greenblatt and Or Tichon scored TDs. However, on all three occasions the Sabres were stuffed on the conversion attempts, ultimately the difference in an extremely tight affair.
The game was so riveting that the pair of streakers who ran across the field towards the end of the fourth quarter were barely enough to take the fans’ eyes off the action, which remained scintillating right up until the last drop.
The IFL now turns its attention to last weekend of the regular season, with a threegame slate, and one playoff seed still remaining to be decided.
On Thursday night, in a win-or-go-home scenario for both teams, Leo Bloom’s Herzliya Hammers (2-7) travel all the up North to Kfar Tavor to take on the Real Housing Haifa Underdogs (1-8), who can grab the last spot and a wild-card date with the Pioneers if they can squeak out at least a six-point victory at home.
Friday sees the Papagaio Jerusalem Kings (1- 8) face the Rebels at Kraft Stadium, while the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions (8-1) visit the Black Swarm on Saturday night to close out the schedule and usher in what will surely be a wild postseason journey to Israel Bowl IV, set for March 18 in the capital.