The Tel Aviv ‘Hotel Gilgal’ Pioneers and the Judean Rebels triumphed in the Kraft Family Israel Football League semifinals, and will meet on Thursday, April 14th, in Petah Tikva for Israel Bowl IX.
The Pioneers narrowly beat the Jerusalem ‘Big Blue’ Lions 16-12, while the Rebels scored early and often in a 64-28 victory over the Haifa ‘Nemo’s’ Underdogs.
This is the 4th straight year that the two clubs will meet in the postseason, including a Judean victory last year in Israel Bowl VIII.
Tel Aviv ‘Hotel Gilgal’ Pioneers 16 – Jerusalem ‘Big Blue’ Lions 12
The first semifinal game was a tight defensive contest, and the Pioneers held on to win and advance to their 3rd straight Israel Bowl.
The Lions got a break early when Pioneers’ punter Daniel Ben-Zvi couldn’t handle the snap on a punt attempt, and the Lions took over at the Tel Aviv 34-yard line. 4 plays later, Lions’ running back Hillel Goldstein barreled in a 9-yard touchdown, 6-0.
The Pioneers answered with a 10-play drive, at the end of which Yuval Fenta ran in a 13-yard touchdown on 4th-and-goal, 8-6, after a Bar Soffer conversion. The teams exchanged punts, and at the beginning of the second quarter Pioneers’ safety Travis Mascitelli intercepted a pass from Jerusalem quarterback Binyamin Schultz after an 11-play Big Blue drive. Tel Aviv punted but Jerusalem turned the ball over on downs. Schultz intercepted a Ronny Moscona pass to send the game into halftime with the score still 8-6, Pioneers.
Ben Zvi forced and recovered a Neria Granevich fumble on the first play of the second half but the Lions defense forced a 4-and-out. The Lions punted and then Ori Refaelowitz picked off a Moscona pass. The Lions ended up punting and the Pioneers turned the ball over on downs to end the third quarter. The teams exchanged punts, and Schultz ran in a 2-yard touchdown with 4:30 to play, 12-8 Lions. The Pioneers went on an 11-play drive, with all 11 plays on the ground, and Moscona ran in a QB sneak with 1:22 to go to make it 16-12 after another Soffer conversion. The Lions had one more chance to win the game, but Ben-Zvi picked off Schultz’s pass to seal the victory and propel his team to Israel Bowl IX.
Moscona finished with 6/19 passing for 57 yards and 2 interceptions, plus a rushing touchdown. Yuval Fenta lead the ground attack with 23 carries for 97 yards and a score, and Nimrod Pintel caught 4 passes for 22 yards. Jason Leos had 9 tackles including 2 TFL, Mascitelli had 6, a pick and 2 breakups, and Ben-Zvi had 4 plus his pick, forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Schultz finished 9/20 for 98 yards and 2 INTs, to go along with a rushing touchdown. Goldstein had 7 carries for 35 yards and a score, and David Abell caught 5 passes for 61 yards. Mordy Charnowitz lead the defense with 13 tackles and 1 TFL and Aryeh Leib Sklar had 12 tackles, including 3.5 TFL and 2 sacks.
Judean Rebels 64 – Haifa ‘Nemo’s’ Underdogs 28
The Rebels avenged their two regular season losses to the Underdogs, beating the visitors soundly to make it to their second straight Israel Bowl.
The Underdogs wasted no time getting on the board, as quarterback Matt Kauffman hit tight end Amit Kolton for a 42-yard score on just the second play of the game to take a 7-0 Haifa lead. Dani Eastman started at quarterback and marched his Rebels 56 yards in 5 plays (all on the ground), ending with a 9-yard keeper, 8-7.
The Underdogs were forced to punt, and after a 53-yard completion to Belov, Eastman found tight end Cole Kaiser for a 14-7 Rebels lead. Rebels linebacker Jeremiah Jelski sacked Kauffman on 3rd down forcing a Haifa punt, and Eastman found Belov for a 10-yard score, 20-7, right before the first quarter came to a close.
Haifa’s Ilya Averbuch missed a 35-yard field goal, but the Underdog defense, who lost middle linebacker Mica Allon to injury very early in the game, forced a Rebels punt. A 24-yard run by Haifa’s Ndavyah Williams helped set up another TD catch by Kolton, 20-14, and Eastman found Jeff Balaban for a 1-yard score with 2:21 to play in the half, 28-14. Haifa couldn’t get anything going on offense and the Rebels’ Yaniv Kovalski blocked a Fearnley punt, which Jason Hess recovered and returned to the Haifa 6-yard line, setting up a Gideon Reiz touchdown run with 24 seconds to play in the half, 36-14. Ariel Back broke up Kauffman’s last second poke at the end-zone.
Kovalski somehow found himself returning the opening kickoff of the second half, and two plays later Eastman found Effi Kolatch for a 12-yard score, 42-14. Two plays later, Haifa tight end Amitai Chubinski found himself open and ran 68 yards for a score, 42-20. Chaim Schiff came on for Eastman and drove the Rebels 50 yards in 8 plays, including a 4-yard Jelski touchdown run, 50-20. The Underdogs put together a 10-play
The Underdogs put together a 10-play drive but turned the ball over on downs. Avi Landesman ran in another Rebels touchdown at the beginning of the 4th quarter, 58-20. Williams took 6 straight hand-offs before Eastman intercepted a Kauffman pass and danced his way 63 yards into the end-zone, 64-20. Eastman intercepted Kauffman again on the next drive, but Schiff fumbled the ball on 4th down, giving the Underdogs the ball again with 4 minutes to play. Two long completions by Kauffman to wide receivers Matan Fourier and Nimrod Smith set Ron Dafni up for a 1-yard TD run, 64-28. Charles Perez recovered the ensuing Haifa onside kick, and the Rebels knelt the game to a close.
Eastman finished 13/19 for 186 yards and 4 touchdowns, adding 10 carries for 117 yards and a score, plus 2 picks and a breakup. Landesman had 9 carries for 82 yards and a score. Belov caught 4 passes for 107 yards and a score. Chaim Aaron lead the team with 8 tackles and Jelski and Ami Notis each had 5 and a sack, Notis adding 3 TFL.
Kauffman completed 17/36 passes for 274 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. Williams had 9 carries for 57 yards. Chubinski caught 5 passes for 104 yards and a score and Kolton had 3 catches for 83 yards and 2 scores. Guy Halberthal and Rudy Rattner lead the defense with 7 tackles each.