Rebels reign supreme

Judeans deny Sabres repeat title in 32-30 thriller to capture Israel Bowl IV.

IFL Champions Judean Rebels 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
IFL Champions Judean Rebels 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The tension and drama of an entire IFL season came down to one play.
Ecstasy and agony waited just a few more moments to see which side they would settle on, respectively.
As the ball left Sabre QB Adi Hakami’s hand and floated through the air on a 4th-and- 11 do-or-die heave, time seemed to pause as all 1,018 in attendance at Kraft Stadium collectively held their breath.
Rebels cornerback Yoni Kranzler bit on the pump fake and veteran receiver Liran Hovav had a couple of steps on the defense for what would have likely been a game-winning catch-anddance into the endzone.
The ball spiralled downward and it appeared that it would hang up just long enough to find its intended target.
Then... thud! Artificial pigskin met artificial grass and the sea of orange began to rejoice.
Two kneel-downs later and the Gush Texas Judean Rebels had completed their title-mission, finally earning the crown as Israel Bowl IV champions with an exhilarating 32-30 conquest of the Arthur’s Tel Aviv/Jaffa Sabres.
The Kraft Family Israel Football League staged its fourth annual final on Friday in the capital, and by all accounts, the result speaks for itself.
A packed house, a Sport5 national television audience, two phenomenal teams leaving it all on the field, a game that just got better and better with every passing minute and to top it all off, the fourth different league champion in as many seasons.
The future of tackle football in Israel has never looked brighter.
“This is a feeling that I just want to bottle and carry around with me in my pocket,” exclaimed Rebels quarterback Alex Swieca, who ran for a pair of scores and threw for another to compensate for his out-ofcharacter three interceptions.
“It looked at first like we would coast, but they certainly gave us a run for our money. I was definitely very nervous at the end there.”
Indeed, Gush Texas jumped out to an 18-0 lead and was up 18-6 at the half and 32-12 late in the third quarter.
Zack Miller continued his second-half surge with a pair of TDs and Jon Millar accounted for all three of the Orangemen’s two-point conversions, as well as recovering a botched snap on a fourth-quarter punt attempt in his own endzone to hold the gaffe to a safety instead of what could have been a fatal six points.
With Sol Rojhani breaking out for three TDs, the Sabres staged a scintillating comeback with 18 unanswered points to close out the contest, falling just short of recapturing the magic from a year previous, when they clinched their title with a last-minute goalline interception.
“We wanted this one so badly, and despite how we started we were right there at the end,” reflected a forlorn Tal Greenblatt, who had a pair of picks and all three Sabres kickoff return is defeat.
“This one will hurt for a long time.”
The Rebels won the coin toss and deferred, kicking off to the Sabres to begin the contest.
TA/J picked up a couple of quick first downs on the ground to get into the red zone, but Rebels linebacker Ayoub Ellayan picked off an errant Hakami pass to keep the Redshirts off the board.
Swieca went to work on offense and while he looked a little jittery at first, he quickly found his tempo and drove the Orangemen downfield.
A pair of running first downs and an 11-yard completion to Kenneth Sharf set up a first-andgoal, on which the 18-year-old quarterback called his own number and found the endzone from two yards out for the first points of the game, and an 8-0 Rebels’ advantage upon Millar’s successful conversion.
The lead would be increased by two two minutes later when a terrible snap on a Sabres punt attempt went out the back of their own endzone for a safety, points that would prove vital in a game ultimately decided by the narrowest of margins.
Another TD and the twopoint convert made it an 18-0 affair and it looked as if the Sabres were going to be bulldozed by the rampant Rebels offense.
However, slowly but surely the defending champs began to chip away.
Down by 12, the Sabres caught a break on the opening kickoff of the second half, when the ball bounced off Rebels’ return-man David Arshavsky and was recovered by Orion Cohen for what became a very long onside kick, staking Arthur’s to a first-and-goal.
Rojhani ran in his second TD of the day from 9 yards out to make it a one-score contest at 18-12, however the Rebels would strike for a pair of quick scores – from Miller and Swieca Jr. on the ground – to boost the lead back up to a seemingly insurmountable 20 points.
But the Sabres refused to throw in the towel, and Rojhani’s hat-trick TD and Motti Krauze’s conversion catch brought it to 32-20 entering the final stanza.
A one-yard keeper TD by Hakami with just over seven minutes left, followed Dan Wasser’s pounding conversion, made it a one-score game and set a dramatic ending for the fourth Israel Bowl in a row.
The Rebels repaid the Sabres’ favor from earlier in the game when Ricky Wolder misfired on a long-snap punt attempt to Millar, however the Barbadian star alertly managed to just outrace the Sabres defender to the ball and hold the mistake to (just) a safety.
With the differential sitting at just two points, the final minutes had everyone on the edge of their seats, especially when the Sabres got the ball back with just over a 90 seconds to go.
However, the bombastic Rebels defense that all-season long had maintained their equality to the vaunted offense, came up huge when it counted most.
Kranzer, Wolder, and the Elayyans all made crucial plays on the game-clinching stand and the Rebels followed the lead of sponsor Peretz Rickett after he was presented the Ofri Becker trophy by AFI President Steve Leibowitz and took their championship celebrations right into Shabbat.
“This was my third year in the IFL, and by far this is the most gratifying sports moment of my life,” shouted Joe Martisius, clutching the trophy on Saturday night as the festivities continued at Mike’s Place Jerusalem.
“Count on us to be back next year to defend our title.
One is nice, two will be even nicer!”