Go-ahead touchdown late in fourth quarter propels Firehawks past rival YULA Panthers


BP Photo by Alex Rubel

NEIGHBORS: Firehawk and Panther flag football players, many of whom grew up together and attended the same elementary schools, congratulated one another after a contentious game Sept. 16 at Woodley Park in Van Nuys.

By Alex Rubel, Sports Editor

A nail-biting rivalry matchup between the Shalhevet Firehawks (1-0) and the YULA Panthers (0-2) could have gone either way, but the Firehawks prevailed by a score of 20-14 in their season opener thanks to a go-ahead touchdown in the waning minutes of the game.

Firehawks wide receiver Max Wintner caught the winning pass in the hotly contested game, which was played Sunday afternoon, Sept. 16, at Woodley Park in Van Nuys. Quarterback Coby Mendelson had thrown it from about the 15-yard line.

“It was exhilarating,” Max said after the game. “It was a great feeling to have such a big contribution to the win.”

It had been a crosstown classic. The lead swung back and forth several times, with neither team ever leading by more than a touchdown.

After the game, both teams praised their opponents’ determination.

“It was a hard-fought battle–both sides,” Panthers’ quarterback Oren Rimmon said in an interview with the Boiling Point. “But Shalhevet played harder and scored more points.”

His Firehawks counterpart agreed.

“The other team played really hard,” said Coby after the game. “We just came out on top.”

But things had broken in the Firehawks’ favor from the opening minutes.  The Firehawks won the coin toss and deferred, so YULA received the opening kick. The Firehawk defense forced the Panthers’ to punt, allowing the Firehawk offense to take the field for the first time of the season.

Then, on their first offensive drive of the season, the Firehawks scored on a touchdown pass from Coby to wide receiver Asher Dauer. They led 6-0, after an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt.

Both teams had to attempt one or two-point conversions after scoring touchdowns since there are no field goals allowed in the Coastal League. The distinction between one- and two-point conversions depends on the distance to the goal line.

In all, Asher had seven receptions and scored two touchdowns for the Firehawks, making him Coby’s most targeted receiver during the game by far. Coby said the level of play between himself and Asher has kept improving over the years.

“We’re really getting the chemistry down,” Coby said, “It’s just all coming together now.”

Asher says his strong friendship with Coby off the field helps, too.

“Our relationship carries straight onto the field,” Asher said.

On their next drive, YULA managed to tie the game with a touchdown pass of their own to wide receiver Hayden Klein. The score remained tied at 6-6 going into halftime.

After halftime, the game started to feel more like a Shalhevet vs. YULA rivalry game. Fans on both sides were increasingly on the edges of their seats as game really took shape.

On the first play of the third quarter, Asher caught a short pass from Coby in the midfield. He then juked around and sprinted past Panthers’ defenders all the way to the endzone for a touchdown. Dazzled Firehawks fans erupted in cheers — but the touchdown was overturned by the referee because of a flag-guarding penalty.

The Firehawks were then forced to punt on the same possession. They paid the price for the penalty when YULA quarterback Oren Rimmon escaped the pocket for a touchdown, putting YULA ahead 14-6 after a successful two-point conversion.

Penalties continued to have game-changing impacts for both sides.

On the next Firehawk possession, a pass by Coby intended to Asher was intercepted by Panthers defender Ariel Shabtaei and returned for a touchdown — but was called back because of a passing interference penalty. The Panthers’ paid for that one, too: Asher caught a lob pass from Coby for his second touchdown of the game. The Firehawks now trailed the Panthers 14-12.

Firehawks coach Ryan Coleman said the unusual number of penalties was no fault of the players, but rather because referees in the Coastal League are familiar mainly with the rules of tackle football leagues.

“I just think that there aren’t very many people who know the rules in the league,” Coach Coleman said. “I don’t feel like there’s much consistency and that they’re really taking the time to learn what the rules are in our league.”

It’s not unusual when Shalhevet and YULA play each other for things to heat up. After the touchdown, Coby uttered some words towards the direction of the Panthers’ bench. In response, Coby said, he was shoved by a furious Panthers’ defender. Both players were given offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

Coby declined to name the Panther who was also given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. He said he thought the penalty he was given was unfair.

“I think the league has to lighten up a little bit and allow friendly dialogue between teams,” Coby said. “Which in this case was all it was.”

Asher noted that Shalhevet vs YULA games tend to be fierce.

“The tensions were high, but that’s expected against YULA,” Asher said.

YULA was forced to punt their next possession. The punt landed within yards of the Firehawks’ own end zone, giving the Firehawks a disadvantaged field position with a long road to a touchdown. Trailing by two — and with the clock ticking — the Firehawks desperately needed a touchdown to take the lead.

That was when Coby found receiver Max Wintner in the endzone for the game winning touchdown. After converting a two-point conversion, the Firehawks led 20-14– the ultimate final score.

YULA still had some hope in the waning seconds of the game. A high yardage screen play by YULA briefly shook Firehawks fans, but their worries subsided when Asher intercepted a pass from Oren, effectively ending the game.

“It’s a gamble — it is what it is,” Panthers’ Coach Ross said of their failed last-ditch attempt to score.

Coach Coleman said he was pleased with the results of the Firehawks’ season opener.

“I was pleasantly surprised, considering we haven’t had much practice time and time to work on situational stuff,” he said.

After the game, Coach Coleman noted flag-pulling as a bright spot for the Firehawks.

“Considering that was the first game, I thought we did a really good job,” Coach Coleman said.

But, he added, the Firehawks have room for improvement with special teams.

“We gave up too much yardage and too many big plays off of punts and kickoffs,” Coach Coleman said.

The Firehawks and the Panthers have another rivalry match scheduled for Oct. 21. Both teams say they will learn from their mistakes this game to tweak their strategies for the next one.

“Be more aggressive,” were Coach Ross’ words of advice to his players for next game.

Coach Coleman said he wants his Firehawks to dedicate one player to “spy” Panthers’ quarterback Oren Rimmon, limiting his ability to escape the pocket and run.

“You got to either take away the run or the pass with him,” Coach Coleman said. “You can’t have him being able to do both.”

The Firehawks’ record improved to 2-0 after they beat Valley Torah by a blowout score on Oct. 7. The Panthers’ record is 1-2 as of Sept. 27.