Rebels, Sabres to duel for title

Orangemen oust Big Blue in come-from-behind thriller; Tel Aviv-Jaffa takes care of Pioneers to earn shot at repeat.

Football 311 (photo credit: Rick Blumsack)
Football 311
(photo credit: Rick Blumsack)
It was a bonanza semifinal weekend in the Kraft Family IFL as the crème-de-la-crème of Israeli tackle football was showcased in a pair of riveting division championships.
On Thursday night in the capital, a record 976 fans crammed into Kraft Stadium to watch the Gush Texas Judean Rebels pull off the comeback of all comebacks, rallying back from an 18- point deficit in the final sevenand- a-half minutes to shock the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions with three late touchdowns to grab a 46-42 conquest.
Saturday night’s North Division semi at Neveh Golan was somewhat less dramatic, with Arthur’s Tel Aviv/Jaffa Sabres jumping out to a 20-0 first-half lead and then hanging on in the final two quarters to eliminate the Dancing Camel Tel Aviv Pioneers in a 26-16 final.
Eric Spitzer led the way for the reigning-champion Sabres, catching the opening 23-yard scoring strike from Adi Hakami and then taking back a 29-yard pick-six just before halftime on an errant throw from Pioneers’ QB Chaim Schiff.
Dancing Camel came out strong after the break, scoring a quick TD and getting a number of chances to pull to within a score and make a game of it.
However, Hakami kept his poise under fire and kept the chains moving with multiple onthe- run bullets to Pavel Ezrohi, Sol Rojhani and Spitzer, and his three-yard completion to Ehud Epstein for a touchdown midway through the final frame pretty much iced the triumph.
“This was a very satisfying win against a team that had beaten us just one month earlier,” exclaimed Sabres’ coach Jon Sharon.
“We are back in the Israel Bowl and we hope to come away champions once again, although we certainly know it won’t be a walk in the park against the Rebels.”
Indeed, TAJ can just ask the Lions how difficult the Rebels are contain.
While Big Blue seemed to have come into Thursday’s mega-clash with the perfect game-plan, holding the Rebels to nary a first down in the first quarter and under 20 minutes of offensive possession for the entire game.
However, even after being down 14-0, 22-12 at the half, and 42-24 well into the final frame, the Orangemen kept their cool and found a way to dig themselves out of a deep hole and into the title game.
Alex Swieca was the brightest star of many for the Rebels, throwing for 248 yards and five touchdowns, while running for an enormous 52 yards and the game-winning plunge into the endzone with just 16 seconds remaining.
Jon Millar was the sparkplug, carrying the ball seven times on the ground for 36 yards and a score, while catching four passes for 92 yards and a pair of TDs, both coming on long-distance lasers from Swieca, who had over 150 of his passing yards on his five scoring bombs.
Millar also executed a crucial onside kick to perfection with just over five minutes remaining and the Rebels needing possession. The spinning rock bounced right off a Lions’ player and into the hands of Judea’s Jason Hess, putting the ball back into Swieca’s hands for him to work his late magic.
“This is what sports are all about,” cried an overjoyed Swieca amid a sea of orange at midfield in the aftermath of the thrilling triumph.
“It looked bleak there for a while, but we dug deep and our heart and passion prevailed in the end.”
With a two-week break until the Israel Bowl – on March 18 – the IFL now gears up for a visit from its namesakes, the esteemed Mr. Robert Kraft and his wife Myra, who will be in Israel and attending the third-place game between the Lions and Pioneers this Thursday night in Jerusalem.