The penultimate week of the Israel Football League’s regular season certainly provided fireworks, as the Ramat Hasharon Hammers clinched the No. 2 seed with a 40-34 victory.
It was won by Jonathan Curran as the clock showed zero, after the Jerusalem Lions came back from a 20-point deficit. Friday’s game was less exciting, but the Petah Tikva Troopers clinched their first-ever playoff spot with a 56-8 victory over the Rehovot Silverbacks.
If anyone had counted the Hammers out after giving up a 20-point lead, or if anyone hadn’t put Curran on their list of MVP candidates, they were served notice on Thursday night. Curran rushed for 35 yards on 4th-and-13 for the game-winning score to secure the victory and the Hammers’ first-ever playoff bye.
The rain was coming down in Ramat Hasharon, and the Lions couldn’t hold on to the ball well enough. A quick Lion turnover-on-downs in their own territory set the Hammers up with great field position, and four plays later Curran found Avi Rosenblum with a 24-yard TD pass, which the former converted for an 8-0 lead. Curran intercepted Chaim Schiff three plays later, and Beto Gonzalez took in another score for the Hammers, 16-0. The Lions drove the field and big Viggy Moore pounded a score in for the Lions just before the end of the 1st quarter, 16-8 Hammers.
Curran returned the ensuing kickoff 43 yards to set the Hammers up in Lions territory for the third straight possession, and after a false start, Adam Kima danced 23 yards for a touchdown and a 22-8 Hammer lead. With less than two minutes to go in the half, the Hammers drove and Curran took in a keeper just before the half to give his team a 28-8 halftime lead.
The Lions forced a punt to start the second half, and Effi Mishaan lined up at QB for the Lions and took the first snap 29 yards to the house. Ady Totah came in under center for the Hammers and found Curran for a 14-yard score three plays later; 34-14 Hammers. Schiff hit Mishaan for a Lions TD right before the end of the third, as they started chipping away at the lead, 34-20.
Schultz intercepted Totah in the end zone again to start the fourth, and the teams traded turnovers-on-downs before Schiff found Schultz for a score, which cut the Hammers’ lead to 34-26 with 2:43 to go. The Lions’ D came up huge in forcing a punt (while burning timeouts) and they got the ball back with 1:03 left in regulation. A 26-yard pass from Schiff to Schultz and an 18-yarder on the same bus line set up Hillel Goldstein’s touchdown plunge to cut the deficit to two. A false start penalty on the conversion pushed the Lions back five yards, but Schiff found Mishaan from seven yards out to tie the game.
A sack, an incompletion and a break-up set up 4th-and-13 for the Hammers in their own territory. Curran went into a long shotgun formation, either to punt, pass or run, and run he did. Weaving 35 yards between multiple defenders, aided by a crushing block on Schultz by Rosenblum, Curran hit the goal line right after the clock hit triple-zeroes. His teammates mobbed him in the end zone as they celebrated the victory and first-round bye they had just achieved.
Curran finished 2-for-2 passing for 33 yards and a TD, rushed for 62 yards and two TDs, and caught two passes for 64 yards and a TD. Totah finished 2-for-6 for 46 yards, a TD and two interceptions, and Gonzalez was 1-for-2 for 18 yards, a pick and a TD on the ground. Kima became the second player in IFL history with 30 rushing attempts in a game, but in contrast to the first one (Jon Rubin), he finished with just 69 yards and a touchdown. Curran added two interceptions in a brilliant all-around game.
Schiff finished 9-for-23 in the air for 130 yards, two TDs and a pickoff. Mishaan was 0-for-2 with an INT and led the team with 36 rushing yards and a TD, while also leading his team in receiving with four receptions for 53 yards and a TD. Schultz finished with three catches for 47 yards and a TD. Kima’s monster number on offense for the Hammers lead to some monster numbers for the Lion defense:
The Hammers have clinched a first-round bye and will host a semifinal game April 4. The Lions can clinch the No. 3 seed with a victory over the Jerusalem Kings or a Pioneers loss. If they lose to the Kings and the Pioneers win on Thursday, the Lions will fall to the No. 4 seed. Either way, they will host a wild-card game on Thursday, March 27, while the Pioneers will host the other wild-card game the next day.
Petah Tikva 56, Rehovot 8
The Petah Tikva Troopers clinched their first-ever playoff berth with a 56-8 victory over the Rehovot Silverbacks, who finished a second straight winless campaign.
Trooper QB E.J. Glatt finished his first start 8-for-20 for 123 yards and three TDs plus 32 yards and one TD on the ground. Chris Daves rushed for 63 yards and 2 TDs, while Bar Rudich caught three passes for 83 yards and two TDs.
Ido Eisikovits finished the game 9-for-30 for 82 yards and three interceptions, while Rotem Oz had two catches for 29 yards. The Troopers have clinched a playoff berth and need a Kings loss on Thursday or a victory against the Black Swarm on Saturday night to clinch the fifth seed.