The Tel Aviv Pioneers and the Judean Rebels triumphed in the Kraft Family Israel Football League semifinals, and will meet this Thursday 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 Underdogs. This is the fourth straight year that the two clubs will meet in the postseason, including a Judean victory last year in Israel Bowl VIII.
The first semifinal game was a tight defensive contest, and the Pioneers held on to win and advance to their third 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. Four plays later, Lions running back Hillel Goldstein barreled in for 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, making it 8-6 after a Bar Soffer conversion.
Both defenses prevented any further scoring until the fourth quarter, when Lions quarterback Binyamin Schultz ran in a 2-yard touchdown with 4:30 to play, giving his team a 12-8 lead. The Pioneers went on an 11-play drive, with all 11 plays on the ground, and Ronny 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.
The Pioneers’ Moscona finished with 6/19 passing for 57 yards and 2 interceptions, plus a rushing touchdown. Yuval Fenta paced 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 on defense.
For Jerusalem, 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 led the defense with 13 tackles.
The Rebels avenged their two regular season losses to the Underdogs, beating the visitors soundly by a margin of 64-28 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 for the Rebels and marched them 56 yards in 5 plays (all on the ground), before ending with a 9-yard keeper to go ahead 8-7.
The Rebels scored on their next two possessions, as Eastman found tight end Cole Kaiser for a 14-7 Rebels lead and Misha Belov for a 10-yard score to make it 20-7, right before the first quarter came to a close.
In the second quarter, a 24-yard run by Haifa’s Ndavyah Williams helped set up another TD catch by Kolton to close the gap to 20-14. However, Eastman found Jeff Balaban for a 1-yard score with 2:21 to play in the half to push the Rebel advantage to 28-14.
After blocking Haifa’s punt, which Jason Hess recovered and returned to the Haifa 6-yard line, Gideon Reiz scored a touchdown run with 24 seconds to play in the half to take a 36-14 lead into the locker room.
Eastman found Effi Kolatch for a 12-yard score on the Rebels’ first possession of the second half to put the game practically out of reach at 42-14. T
Although two plays later, Haifa tight end Amitai Chubinski found himself open and ran 68 yards for a score, Chaim Schiff came on for Eastman and drove the Rebels 50 yards in 8 plays, including a 4-yard Jeremiah Jelski touchdown run to push the score to 50-20.
Avi Landesman ran in another Rebels touchdown at the beginning of the 4th quarter, while Eastman intercepted a Kauffman pass and danced his way 63 yards into the end zone before Ron Dafni’s 1-yard TD run closed out the scoring for the game.
Eastman finished 13/19 for 186 yards and 4 touchdowns, adding 10 carries for 117 yards and a score, plus 2 picks and a break-up. Landesman had 9 carries for 82 yards and a score. Belov caught 4 passes for 107 yards and a score. Chaim Aaron led the team with 8 tackles.
In the loss, Kauffman completed 17/36 passes for 274 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. Chubinski caught 5 passes for 104 yards and a score.