Sabres stage late comeback for Israel Bowl

Saving the best for last is what a championship game should be, a maxim that played out in spades in the final league game.

TEL AVIV/JAFFA SABRES celebrate the championship 370 (photo credit: AARON C)
TEL AVIV/JAFFA SABRES celebrate the championship 370
(photo credit: AARON C)
Saving the best for last is what a championship game should be all about, a maxim that played out in spades on Friday as the Bourbon Street Tel Aviv/Jaffa Sabres conquered the Clal Tel Aviv Pioneers 44-42 in a sensational Israel Bowl V to become the first two-time title-winner in the Kraft Family Israel Football League.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a game like that exciting,” exclaimed Israel Bowl co-MVP Adi Hakami, who threw for 150 yards and three scores, including the game-winning touchdown with just 2:21 remaining to cap off a scintillating back-and-forth final quarter that had all 650 people in attendance and thousands more tuned in to the nationally televised broadcast on the edge of their seats.
“It looked a little bleak for us, even on that final Pioneers’ drive, but our defense came up with a huge turnover at the perfect moment to propel us to this ultra-satisfying triumph.”
Indeed, even after TAJ converted a crucial two-point conversion to go up by two points, the Pioneers still had a glorious opportunity to ride off into the sunset with the trophy, with two timeouts left and a running game that compiled 162 yards on the ground looking fresh deep into the contest.
With the Sabres’ D looking a little fatigued, it appeared as if the window was open for some last-second heroics from Itay Ashkenazi & Co., especially after they picked up a first down and had 10 extra yards tacked on courtesy of a late-hit infraction.
However, lining up from the TAJ 20-yard line with just over a minute to go, veteran Pioneers running back Kobi Nimrod crossed signals with his QB, and Ashkenazi’s pitch agonizingly fell to the ground untouched.
The ball was pounced upon by game co- MVP Jonathan Curran for a fumble recovery, allowing the Sabres to harmlessly kneel out the game and for the second time in three years enjoy the sweet taste of a championship.
“We felt like that game was ours for the taking,” reflected Pioneers’ wildcat-specialist Ron Moscona, who took a number of snaps under center and even tossed a touchdown to Daniel Ben Zvi that, at the time, gave the Blue-shirts a 36-28 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.
“It’s going to take a bit of time to get over losing this way, but that’s football. Execution is paramount and it takes every single member of the team to enjoy ultimate success. We fell a little short today, but we’ll be back, strong as ever.”
From the start of the game, it didn’t appear as if a tight battle was in the making, with the Sabres’ jumping out to a quick 14-0 advantage on a pair of short TD rumbles from Cory Zinker.
After forcing turnover-on-downs for three straight Pio possessions, murmurs of a blowout began to ripple through the packed house.
But, just before the first quarter ended, Elan Naiger turned the game around with a beautiful body-twisting interception that he returned 13 yards to the house for his team’s first points, which opened the floodgates to a wild second frame.
Ashkenazi took in a short QB-keeper to tie the match at 14, before Ilan Bielas went on a running rampage, sandwiching scoring bursts of 42 and five yards around an eight-yard Sabres’ TD on a pass from Hakami to Jon Tsipori.
Curran levelled the contest with the first of his three touchdowns on the last play from scrimmage before the break, and the 28-28 halftime score represented the very best efforts, and impressive adjustments, of the two best teams in the country leaving it all on the field in a battle of pigskin passion.
A scoreless third period paved the way for the breathtaking fourth, in which the teams traded scoring drives like haymakers, with Ben Zvi, and Bielas landing blows for the Pioneers and Curran coming to the Sabres’ rescue with a 40-yard dash up the sidelines and the final nine-yard TD reception.
With the score knotted at 42, it came down to Hakami’s guile, with the fifth-year QB stubbornly refusing to buckle under pressure, taking the decisive two-point conversion in himself, before nervously watching from the sidelines as the Pioneers almost had the last laugh, only to be undone by their first turnover of what was a courageous effort, even in defeat.
And so, the Big Red Machine reigns supreme once more in the IFL. Three straight finals, two titles and a big bulls-eye on their backs just begging the other teams in the league to restock and come gunning for them next year.
“Moments like this are what make all the hard work, all the practicing, all the commitment worthwhile,” noted jubilant Sabres’ head coach Jon Sharon, before being drenched by a Gatorade-cooler shower from his ecstatic team. “A game like this, a feeling like this, is what sports are all about.”
Taking in the whole scene, from the perspective of both players and fans alike, it would be difficult to disagree with the new champs.