Jerusalem ‘Big Blue’ Lions 28 – Petah Tikva Troopers 20
By Zach Engel
Cover Photo by Dotan Doron
Jerusalem, Israel – As the record-breaking crowd on hand at the new Kraft Family Sports Campus sang and danced throughout Israel Bowl XI, the Jerusalem Lions captured their second consecutive Israel Bowl title, and third overall in franchise history.
Lead by reigning two-time regular season Most Valuable Player David Abell, the Lions were able to stave off a comeback attempt by the Petah Tikva Troopers to secure their second consecutive championship and undefeated season, while earning the right to be called one of the greatest dynasties in IFL history in the process. After leading the regular season in both scoring offense and defense, the Lions entered the 2018 postseason with high hopes and expectations, and they certainly lived up to the billing with a 54-12 victory over the Tel Aviv Pioneers in the semi-finals, before edging the Troopers 28-20 in Israel Bowl XI.
Abell, who looked a little shaky in the opening quarter, overthrew a number of receivers and tossed a rare interception before turning to his legs to settle him down. Abell would finish the game with 122 passing yards on a 50% completion rate, along with a game-high 138 rushing yards on 14 carries. He also added three clutch catches for 54 yards, and was involved in three of the four touchdowns the Lions would score on the evening en route to earning Israel Bowl XI MVP honors.
Appearing in their first ever Israel Bowl, the Petah Tivka Troopers hoped to keep momentum going from their previous two playoff victories into their battle against the juggernaut Lions, but ultimately fell short of the triumphant victory. While the Troopers missed some capitalization opportunities early in the game, it was their own doings that handicapped them from the start. On their first-ever offensive snap in the Israel Bowl, Chris Daves fumbled the football deep inside their own territory, setting up a Lions touchdown on the ensuing play. Early in the second quarter, Daves, Petah Tikva’s do-it-all weapon and Special Teams Player-of-the-Year candidate, was ejected after picking up his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the half. With Daves out of the game, the Troopers lost a dimension of their game plan, and were forced to abandon the run much earlier than they would have liked, finishing the game with a mere eight yards rushing.
While the Troopers did find success through the air, with QB Avrami Farkas throwing for a game-high 262 yards and three touchdowns, it was his two interceptions along with Daves’s critical early fumble and the non-existent rushing attack that held the Troopers back. Star receiver Jonathan Curran, who missed half the season due to injury, made a number of circus catches en route to a career day, recording eight catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. Gideon Reiz, the IFL’s leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns during the season, recorded three catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns.
While the Lions knew they wouldn’t be able to stop all of the Troopers offensive weapons, it was clear that their focus was on former IFL MVP Dani Eastman, who for the second consecutive year, missed a considerable amount of time due to a broken ankle. Finally healthy, Eastman had terrorized both the Silverbacks and the Rebels in the quarter-final and semi-finals, respectively. However, versus the Lions, Eastman was grounded, recording just 41 total yards and no scores. By neutralizing the former MVP, the Lions were able to focus on generating pressure on Farkas, forcing him out of the pocket and into difficult throwing situations.
Despite outgaining the Troopers in first downs (20-10), rushing yards (167-8), and total offensive plays (59-43), the Lions were never able to pull away with the game, as the Troopers had a chance to tie the game in the late stages of the fourth quarter. However, after failing to convert on fourth and 10 with 1:44 remaining near mid-field, the Lions took over on downs before running out the clock, ending the 2017-2018 IFL campaign with a perfect season (12-0).
With the victory, the Lions also become the third IFL franchise to reach three Israel Bowl titles, joining the Judean Rebels and the now-defunct Tel Aviv Sabres.