Defending champion Jerusalem Lions jump out to win in opening weekend in Israel

The Judean Rebels held off the Tel Aviv Pioneers 30-24 on Saturday night in Tel Aviv to cap off an exciting opening weekend in the Kraft Family Israel Football League. On Thursday night, the Jerusalem ”Big Blue” Lions beat the Petah Tikva Troopers 34-20, inaugurating the new football field at the Kraft Family Sports Campus in Jerusalem, and on Friday morning the Haifa ”Nemo’s” Underdogs beat the Mazkeret Batya Silverbacks 14-7.

Jerusalem ”Big Blue” Lions 34 – Petah Tikva Troopers 20

Photo: Dotan Doron

The Kraft Family Israel Football League 2017-18 season kicked off with the defending champion Jerusalem Lions hosting the Petah Tikva Troopers in the very first game played at the new football field at the Kraft Family Sports Campus in Jerusalem. Thank you, Mr. Robert Kraft, for all that you do for football in Israel!

Effi Mishaan, back on the field after a few seasons in the army, made his presence known immediately with a 40-yard return on the opening kickoff. The Lions took advantage of the good field position and started the season exactly where they left off at the end of last season – a touchdown pass from David Abell to Ezzy Jaski, 8-0. Troopers’ RB Avi Kol El lost a fumble which the Lions’ Tzvi Sklar recovered, but Aryeh Eastman stripped Abell of the ball and Anthony Morales recovered for Petah Tikva. Two plays later, Gideon Reiz lost a fumble and Binyamin Schultz recovered for the Lions, but the Lions turned the ball over on downs.

The Troopers punted to start the second quarter, a beauty by Jonathan Curran all the way down to the 3, but Abell connected with Mishaan for a 77-yard catch-and-run touchdown, 16-0. Schultz intercepted an Avrami Farkas pass, setting up another Lions TD pass, this one from Abell to Nechemia Kaplinsky, 22-0. The guests got on the board with 3:25 to play in the half on a pass from Farkas to Reiz (22-6), and Kaplinsky fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Troopers’ linebacker Enrique Roth. Farkas promptly threw another interception to Schultz, but the Lions ended up punting, and Leor Markose intercepted another errant Farkas pass before the half. 22-6 at halftime.

The Troopers started the second half on the right foot, with a touchdown pass from Farkas to Ari Levin, who made a nifty move to get into the end-zone, 22-14. The Lions punted, but Farkas threw another interception to Schultz who returned this one for 19 yards, setting up a rushing TD by Abell, 28-14. Farkas connected with new target Jonathan Curran for a TD just before the end of the quarter, making the score 28-20 as the game entered the final frame. On the first play of the final quarter, Abell hit Mishaan for another score, 34-20. The Troopers punted, but Aryeh Eastman stripped the ball away from Moshe Segelman to give his team another shot at a comeback.

Chris Daves pulled off a fake punt on 4th down, passing the ball to Aryeh Eastman for the first down, but when 4th down came up again it was Eastman with the crucial drop. Abell lost a fumble on a low snap, and rookie Roey Goren recovered for the Troopers with 4 minutes to play, but Farkas threw yet another interception to, you guessed it, Binyamin Schultz. The Lions attempted a field goal to try and put the game even more out of reach, but a high snap and a wobbly hold lead to a big loss and a turnover on downs. The Troopers had 40 seconds to try and score, onside and score, but the couldn’t get it done.

Troopers RB Alon Lekovitch Photo: Daniella Dolgin

Individual performances

Lions
Abell completed 18/28 passes for 278 yards and 4 touchdowns, adding 33 yards and a score on the ground but also lost 2 fumbles. Mishaan caught 5-147-2 and added 21 yards rushing. Jaski caught 6-84-1 and Kaplinsky caught 4-31-1. Schultz finished the game with 5 tackles, 4 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Mordy Charnowitz had 7 tackles and 2 TFL, and Leor Markose added 4 tackles, 3 break-ups and an INT.

Troopers
Farkas completed 21/43 passes for 272 yards, 3 scores and 5 interceptions. Curran caught 6 balls for 113 yards and a score and Reiz caught 7-69-1. Aryeh Eastman lead the defense with 7 tackles, 3.5 TFL, a sack, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Dovid Eastman added 7 tackles and Curran had 6 and a break-up.

 

Haifa ”Nemo’s” Underdogs 14 – Mazkeret Batya Silverbacks 7

Photo: Tom Nudelman

Mazkeret Batya started their season off with a punt, but Michael Slabodkin intercepted a pass from Haifa’s Ron Dafni, getting the ball back for the hosts. The Silverbacks punted again, and this time Dafni completed a touchdown pass to Omer Hasson, 7-0 Haifa. Haifa’s Mica Allon intercepted an Ido Eisikovits pass to start the 2nd frame and the teams exchanged punts before a 2nd Dafni/Hasson touchdown pass, 14-0. Haifa’s Harrison Duke-Fearnley blocked a Tim Plotkin field goal attempt with 2 minutes to play in the half, the Mazkeret defense held fast and stopped the Underdogs on downs with 24 seconds to go, but it wasn’t enough time for the Backs to get on the board before halftime. 14-0 Haifa at the half.

Photo: Tom Nudelman

Haifa started the half with a 14-play, clock-eating drive (8 minutes!), but it ended with a blocked field goal courtesy of Mazkeret Batya rookie Shiko Zano. The Silverbacks punted the ball away, but the Underdogs turned the ball over on downs right before the end of the third quarter. Mazkeret turned the ball over on downs, but Haifa returned the favor. Eisikovits took in a keeper with just over 2 minutes to play, narrowing the gap to 14-7, but Haifa got a first down and was able to kneel out the clock.

Individual performances

Underdogs

Dafni completed 13/22 passes for 94 yards, 2 scores and an INT. Hillel Meran carried the rock 26 times for 126 yards, and Hasson caught 5 passes for 42 yards and 2 scores. Allon lead the defense with 8 tackles, a sack and an INT and Duke-Fearnley (1 BU, blocked FG) and Lee Shaked (1.5 TFL) added 4 tackles each.

Silverbacks

Eisikovitz completed 6/21 passes for 122 yards and a pick, adding on the ground the ‘Backs lone score of the day. Ohad Samuely had 45 yards on 8 carries and Ofri Launer caught 2 passes for 57 yards. Zano lead the defense with 11 tackles and a blocked FG, and Jen Hilel, Aviram Johnson and Mark Samarsky tallied 7 tackles each.

The Underdogs travel to Petah Tikva this Thursday to play the Troopers, and the Silverbacks have a week off before going to the Kraft Family Sports Campus to play the Judean Rebels next Thursday night.

Judean Rebels 30 – Tel Aviv Pioneers 24

The Rebels got off to a fast start in Tel Aviv, scoring on their second play from scrimmage as Chaim Aaron found a streaking Yoel Hughes for a 60-yard touchdown pass, 6-0. The orange defense forced a Tel Aviv punt, but TA rookie Nadav Eliraz picked off Aaron’s pass in the end-zone, getting the ball back for the hosts. IFL newcomer Ariel Hoffman ripped off a 46-yard run, setting his team up in the red zone, but Rebels’ veteran Jason Hess intercepted Cam Simmonds’ pass in the end-zone. The Judeans had an awful punt, but stout defense and a penalty on Tel Aviv pushed the Pioneers back and forced the hosts to punt as well to start the second quarter. Aaron scored on a keeper from 3 yards out (14-0). The Pioneers turned the ball over on downs, and Aaron found Yehuda Mendlowitz for a 34-yard TD on 4th-and-18, 22-0. Both teams got another chance to score before the half, but neither converted. 22-0 at the half.

Maybe the Rebels got complacent, and maybe the Pioneers found new energy during the break. Maybe both. Either way, the Pioneers came out and scored on their first possession with Ariel Hoffman scoring a quick TD (22-6), after which an awful Rebel decision to go for it on 4th-and-long from their own 10-yard line gave the Pioneers the ball again. This time reigning Offensive Player-of-the-Year Yuval Fenta ran in his first TD of the young season, 22-12. Eliraz tallied his second INT of the night off Aaron, and Simmonds ran in a score, making it 22-18 at the start of the 4th period. Rebels’ rookie Omree Gottlieb lost a fumble, giving the Pioneers the ball back with 5 minutes to go.

The hosts capitalized on the opportunity and scored a touchdown on their fourth straight possession, capping an improbable second- half 24-point swing with a 60-yard touchdown scamper by Hoffman to take the lead at 24-22 with 4:31 to play. A 40-yard pass from Aaron to Hughes on 1st down put the Rebels in business immediately, and a 4th down completion (yes, Aaron to Hughes) set the Rebels up for Ari Gold to run in the go-ahead score, 30-24 with 1:30 to play. Mendlowitz intercepted a long Simmonds’ pass, and the Pioneers burned their timeouts in an effort to get the ball back. That they did, with 3 seconds to play, but Aaron came over to break up Simmonds’ desperation heave, and the Rebels came out with the road ‘W’.

Individual Performances

Rebels

Aaron completed 13/23 passes for 218 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs, adding 69 yards and a score on the ground. Hughes caught 3-107-1 and Daniel Yerushalmi caught 5-69. Gottlieb had 13 carries for 33 yards. On defense, rookie safety Gidon Hazony had 6 tackles and 2 TFL. Shaya Fisgus had 7 tackles, Zev Hoffman had 5 and a sack and Uria Loberbom had 4, a sack and a forced fumble.

Pioneers

Simmonds completed a dismal 2/10 passes for 8 yards and 2 interceptions, adding 46 yards and a score on the ground,. Hoffman had 11-151-2 rushing in his debut, and Fenta added 15-92-1. Asaf Katz was his usual beastly self on defense, with 12 tackles, 3 TFL and a sack. Idan Melchior had 5, 1.5 TFL and half a sack, and Eliraz registered 3 tackles, 2 picks and a break-up.

The Rebels travel to Beersheva on Saturday night, and the Pioneers have a week off before hosting Beersheva the following Saturday night. Both team are celebrating weddings this week, so we would like to send a big IFL mazel tov to Pioneers’ DL Rafi Shalev and to Rebels’ RB Avi Landesman on their respective celebrations.

Israel Football League
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