After the first phase of the AFI season, which consisted of fourteen "games", Derech Etz Chaim finished as one of the top 32 teams in the league, qualifying for the group stage. In contrast to previous seasons when the round-robin groups were determined mathematically using each team's position in the standings, this season the league took into account which day each team plays their games, either Friday or Saturday night, when forming the groups. Saturday night has historically been the day with the hardest competition, and so DEC ended up in what the league reported as likely the toughest group out of the eight.
The other three teams in DEC's group are Lev Hatorah, Croton Watches, and Tov Pizza, the defending Holyland Bowl Champions. The group stage would consist of one fifty-minute game against each of the other three teams in the group with three points awarded for a win, one point for a tie and zero points for a loss. The teams with the two best point totals after the six games played in the group would advance to the Holyland Bowl playoffs, a feat that DEC had never previously achieved.
After receiving byes the last few weeks of the regular season to celebrate the marriage of captain Eli Mirlis, DEC began the group stage in Week 13(December 29) against Tov Pizza without their honeymooning captain.
DEC walked the walk with the defending champs for a half. The defense's goal-line stand helped maintain a 13-13 halftime score. It didn't stay that way for long, though, as Tov Pizza came out firing in the second half and DEC could not come up with an answer.
A 40-13 loss was not the way DEC wanted to open the group stage, but if they could afford a loss, it had to come at Tov Pizza's hands. A loss in the first game meant that DEC's last two games would both be must-win games and they no longer held their fate in their own hands.
DEC's first must-win game was in Week 14(January 5) against Croton Watches. Some strategic alterations to the defensive lineup led to shut-out domination in the first half. The offense was in sync, posting 35 first-half points.
The nice cushion allowed the back-ups to see some playing time before the final whistle closed out a 56-6 statement-maker.
With the understanding that the chances of Tov Pizza losing to Lev Hatorah were minuscule, a DEC win over Lev Hatorah in Week 15(January 12) would almost certainly clinch a spot in the Holyland Bowl playoffs. Difficult as it may have been, the team overcame the butterflies in their stomachs and the weight on their shoulders to post an impressive 26-6 victory. Here are some highlights...
With Tov Pizza's win over Lev Hatorah in Week 16(January 19), DEC has officially qualified for the knockout stage of the Holyland Bowl playoffs for the first time in program history. Tov Pizza finished atop the group with nine points and DEC finished second with six points; Croton Watches and Lev Hatorah will fight out the last two spots in Week 17. The draw for the Holyland Bowl playoffs will take place following Week 17 play, with the playoffs expected to begin in Week 18. As a second place finisher in the group stage, DEC will be drawn against a team who finished in first place. Although it has not been confirmed, we believe that, because DEC plays on Saturday night, they will be drawn against a team who finished first in a group of teams who play on Friday.
We're going to try to provide bigger and better coverage for this special occasion. We've added interactive polls on the right side of this page; be sure to participate in the one which asks about improved coverage of the playoffs. If you are or someone you know is in Israel and interested in video taping a playoff game, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always looking for volunteers to help record games; game footage is one of the best ways to offer our readers access to the game.
We'd like to thank our readers for remaining loyal through the lean years and hope that this playoff birth has made it all worth it. Feel free to leave comments and stay tuned for further playoff coverage.