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2015-09-11 digital edition

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September 11, 2015  RSS feed

Text: T T T

Former Tampa Bay resident helps Israel top Spain in American football tourney

Jewish Press

Matt Kauffman, quarterback for the Israel National Football Team, is shown with his father, Bob Kauffman of Safety Harbor. Matt Kauffman, quarterback for the Israel National Football Team, is shown with his father, Bob Kauffman of Safety Harbor. Israel’s national American-style football team – with a former Tampa Bay area man playing quarterback – won their first international competition on Aug. 30, defeating Spain’s national team 28-20 in Madrid.

Quarterback Matt Kauffman, who now lives near Haifa, threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring, helping his team earn a berth as one of eight national teams that will play in the International Federation of American Football’s B-Group International Tournament next year. Israel was one of six unseeded teams that had to defeat a seeded opponent to qualify for play in the 2016 tournament.

Matt Kauffman, 30, attended Seminole High School and graduated from Boomingdale High School in Hillsborough County. Before he made aliyah to Israel in 2009 and playing for the Haifa Underdogs, his only experience playing football was at Florida State University for his AEPi fraternity intramural team. He lives on a kibbutz and last year married Jasmin Ben Tal. The couple is expecting their first child this fall.

Kauffman’s dad, Bob Kauffman of Safety Harbor, flew to Spain to watch the game.

“The stands were full. It was a hard fought game. When it was over the players hugged each other and took group pictures together. The Spanish team came over to the Israeli side and applauded. The Israeli team went to the stands and they clapped to the fans. The folks in the stands gave the Israelis a standing ovation,” Bob Kauffman said. “I had a lump in my throat ... I’ve never seen such raw sportsmanship in my life.”

He said the Spanish team invited the Israelis to a barbecue after the game. “They were gracious hosts.”

However, Bob Kauffman said there was an incident before the game. “Extremists spray painted ‘free Palestine’ on the track and field the night before ... It was quickly fixed before game time,” he said, noting that security was tight.

The game see-sawed with Israel taking the lead and Spain tying the score three times – at 7-7, 13-13 and 20-20 before an Israeli defensive back picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown. A 2-point conversion made it 28-20 but with time running out Spain returned the ensuing kickoff to Israel’s 10 yard line. The Israel defense dug in and stopped Spain to ensure victory.

The team received a hero’s welcome when they flew home to the Ben Gurion Airport, Bob Kauffman said.

The win means the Israel National team will now play six games, three home and three away, in B-Group competition, with the team with the best record advancing to A-Group competition for the overall championship.

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