Lions Advance After Overtime Victory; Pioneers Stymie Rebels in Upset
Wow, what an awesome semifinal weekend! Two games showcasing the best of Israeli football, four great teams, and two amazing games that went down to the wire. The Tel Aviv Pioneers stifled the Judean Rebels offense and came away with a 38-32 victory, and the Jerusalem Lions beat the Ramat HaSharon in overtime 42-36, on Tiran Koren’s 3-yard run, which sets up a rematch of Israel Bowl II in Israel Bowl VII.
(Cover Photo: Moshe Hagshur)
The Pioneers came into the game sharp and the Rebels just couldn’t maintain their season-long form against a punishing Pioneer defensive line. For the second time in 3 years, the Pioneers came to Kraft Stadium and knocked off a previously unbeaten opponent in the semifinals, as they snuffed out a late Rebel comeback bid to clinch their berth in Israel Bowl VII.
The Pioneers started with the ball, but QB Ronny Moscona threw an early interception to the Rebels’ Jason Hess. The Rebels had to punt the ball away and the Pioneers drove the field with a 4-minute 11 play drive which ended with a Josh Henry 4-yard TD run. The Rebels bounced right back with a Dani Eastman kick-return touchdown and the tying conversion run by Joe Martisius. Elan Neiger had a good return for the Pios, but Uria Loberbom sacked Moscona on 3rd down to force a Pioneer punt. Tal Senyor sacked Rebel QB Avrami Farkas on two consecutive plays to set up 4th-and-18, and Farkas’s pass to Yisroel Barkany only gained 9 yards, which gave the ball back to the visiting Tel-Avivians to end the first quarter at 8-8.
Josh Henry escaped many would-be tacklers en-route to a17-yard run, and a pass to Daniel Ben-Zvi set up a TD pass from Moscona to tight end Omri Sapir. The Rebels turned the ball over on downs after failing to convert on 4th-and-2, and a 28-yard Moscona pass to Cam Simmonds down to the 1 set up Henry for another TD plunge. The Rebels drove the field and a 24-yard catch-and-run from Farkas to Eastman set up a TD pass from Farkas to Martisius with just under 5 minutes to play in the half. Hess intercepted Moscona again on the next drive, and just as the Rebels were getting close to the end-zone, Jaymes Kine fumbled a handoff which was recovered by the Pioneers’ Yoni Millo. The Rebel D held fast and forced a Pioneer punt with 46 ticks left in the half, but the Rebels couldn’t convert and they went into the half down 24-16.
The Rebels got the ball to start the half but Ziv Weinberg picked off Farkas’s pass which set up Henry’s 3rd TD run of the night. On the next drive, Joe Martisius came in at QB for the Rebels, but he was stripped by Asaf Katz, but Katz’s TD run was called back for a penalty. The penalty proved costly as Ayal Frankfurter forced a Henry fumble which was recovered by the Rebels’ Jeremiah Jelski. The Rebels drove the field and the 3rd quarter ended during the drive with the score 32-16.
The Rebel drive culminated in a Joe Martisius touchdown run on 4th down to bring them within one score at 32-24. The Pioneers drove the field and a short pass from Moscona to Ben-Zvi turned into touchdown pay-dirt with some elusive running by Ben-Zvi and great downfield blocking by Sapir to give the Pios a two-score lead with 9 minutes to play. 2 plays later, Sagan Zavelo picked off Martisius’s pass, but the Rebels’ D came up huge as they forced a quick 4-and-out. The Rebels’ offense was able to put together a drive which Eastman finished off with a TD run, and converted it himself to bring the Rebels to within 6 points at 38-32 with 4 minutes to go. The Rebel D forced a Pioneer punt with 2:40 to go to give their offense one last chance to tie or win the game. Eastman ran for a 6-yard keeper and the threw an incompletion before being sacked by Senyor and Weinberg on 3rd down. On a 4th-and-season for the Rebels, Senyor teamed up with Daveed Abell to sack Eastman and send the surprising Pioneers into the finals and the previously undefeated Rebels home for the off-season.
Moscona 11/25 for 123 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs, while Henry rushed for 77 yards and 3 TDs on 22 carries. Sapir caught 4 passes for 41 yards and a TD and Ben-Zvi caught 3 passes for 52 yards and a TD. Senyor literally paved the way for the defense with 9 tackles, including a postseason record 5 sacks and 5.5 TFLs. Katz had 9 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 TFLs, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. Lew Duker had 8 tackles and 2 breakups, and Abell had 6 tackles and a breakup.
Farkas went 11/18 for 131 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT before being replaced by Martisius who went 7/16 for 81 yards and an INT. Martisius added a TD catch and a rushing TD. Eastman finished with 7 catches for 100 yards , 1/2 passing for 21 yards, and 4 yards and a TD rushing. Uria Loberbom lead the Rebel D with 7 tackles, and 2 sacks and Jeremiah Jelski had 9 tackles, a sack, 2.5 TFLs and a fumble recovery. Eastman finished with 8 tackles and 3 breakups and Micah Bookman added 8 and a TFL. Hess had 4 tackles to go along with his 2 picks, and Elie Mendlowitz had 5 tackles and 3 breakups.
The Pioneers move on to Israel Bowl VII in their 3rd finals appearance in 6 years.
The Lions went ahead early and stayed ahead for most of the game, but the Hammers came back and took the lead in the middle of the 4th quarter. The Lions tied the game, and each team had a chance to win the game, but neither could convert, and the Lions won in overtime 42-36 to advance to the finals.
The Lions got the ball first and drove the field before Netanel Meron recovered a Chaim Schiff fumbled snap on 3rd-and-goal. The Hammers couldn’t move the ball so they punted it away, and the teams exchanged punts to end a scoreless first quarter.
The Lions went on a 7-minute, 10-play drive which ended in a 1 yard TD pass from Schiff to Tiran Koren. 4 plays later, Jonathan Curran wove 36 yards for a touchdown, and then the fans got a 10-minute 2-point conversion. On the first attempt, 2 Hammers were called for unsportsmanlike conduct after a scuffle on their sideline, and on the second attempt the Lions were called for roughing-the-passer. On the third try Curran’s pass fell incomplete to leave the score at 8-6 Lions. Two plays later, Binyamin Schultz made a helmet grab (a la David Tyree) after two Hammer defenders collided with each other and he scooted in for another Lions’ touchdown. The Lions’ Josh Flaster got into the action as he stuffed a Hammer run for -4 yards and on the next play he forced an intentional grounding by Curran in the end-zone for a Lions safety. The Lions got the ball and Effi Mishaan danced his way for a 15-yard score from the QB spot with under 2 minutes to go in the half. On the very next play, Curran replied with a 35-yard run reminiscent of his game-winning run against the Lions just three weeks ago, including great blocking downfield by Avi Rosenblum.The Lions drove the field looking for another score before halftime, but the Hammers defense held strong and the half ended with the score 24-14, Lions.
The Hammers got the ball to start the second half and Curran and co. drove the field, and Curran found Nachi Brodt in the end-zone to bring the Hammers to within 4 points. The Lions turned the ball over on downs, even after a 30-yard return by Jerome Wojtalik. The Hammers turned the ball over on downs and Schiff found Effi Mishaan for a 24-yard score, with just under 3 minutes to go in the third. Avi Rosenblum missed a chance to make it a one-score game when he dropped a potential defensive extra point pick-2, but Curran took the ensuing kickoff to the house to tilt the momentum back to Ramat HaSharon’s side. The Hammer defense forced a Lion punt to end the third quarter at 30-28 Lions.
Curran pulled off a 28-yard run to start the 4th quarter to set his team up in the red zone, but on the next play Hillel Goldstein sacked Curran, forced the fumble and recovered it to give the Lions the ball back. The Ramat HaSharon defense held strong and forced a Lion punt which the Lions downed deep in Hammer territory, but a 30-yard run by Abraham Del-Real and and a 15-yard pass to Adam Davis set up a Curran pass to Jesus Z’cruz with 6 minutes to go in the game to take the lead for the first time in the game. After a Lions punt, Curran was being taken down and tried to throw it away. Flaster tipped it in the air and Schultz caught the ball and ran it in to the end-zone to tie the game at 36. The Lions had a chance to take the lead on the conversion, but a miscommunication between Schif and Mishaan had the pass all incomplete. A huge 37-yard pass from Curran to Davis put the Hammers right back in scoring position, and they ran the ball (and the clock) right down to 4th-and-6 from the 11 with 24 seconds to go. The kicking unit came out to attempt a lead-taking field goal, but the kick was too low. The Lions drove the field but Schiff threw two incompletions to end regulation and send the game into overtime.
The Lions won the toss for overtime and elected to defend first. The Hammers went 4-and-out, including a reverse-pass to Curran which was sniffed out by the defense and stopped before the first-down mark. The Lions got the ball but the Hammers were able to hold strong until 4th down, when Rosenblum was called for a personal foul on Lions’ TE Shmuel Halpern, which gave the Lions 1st-and-goal from the 4-yard line. On second down, Schiff pitched the ball to Tiran Koren who got the lead block from Hillel Goldstein to squeeze his way into the end-zone and set off the Lions’ celebrations.
Schiff finished 14/34 passing for 150 yards and 3 TDs. Mishann had 60 yards and a TD on the ground, and 45 yards and a TD receiving. Koren had 35 yards and a TD rushing plus 14 yards and a TD receiving. Schultz had 59 yards and a TD receiving and added 35 yards rushing. On defense, Flaster lead the way with 6 tackles, 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss, while Gani Medad had 5 tackles. Schultz and Wojtalik chipped in 4 tackles each, with Schultz adding his game-tying pick-6.
Curran did almost everything for the Hammers, as he finished 4/13 passing for 66 yards, 2 TDs and an INT, and he also rushed 15 times for 126 yards and 2 touchdowns, plus his kick return TD and a tackle and a break-up. Adam Davis caught 2 passes for 52 yards, and Brodt and Z’cruz each caught a 7-yard TD pass. Abraham Del Real had 7 carries for 42 yards. Rosenblum lead the Hammer defense with 7 tackles and Amir Balva had 5. Raul Lopez, Ido Kamiel, Yair Ben-Moshe and Netanel Meron each had 4 tackles and combined for 3 TFLs.
The Lions will get set for Israel Bowl VII against the Pioneers which is scheduled for Friday, April 11th at 13:35 PM at Kraft Stadium. This is a rematch of Israel Bowl II, a game which the Pioneers won on a walk-off pick-6 by Ohad Naveh.