The stage was well and truly set for the Cheetahs first W of the season. The sun was out and a crowd of around 300 had turned up to see the Hertfordshire outfit make their first home appearance of 2016.
The atmosphere of the day certainly pumped up the Cheetahs – from the kick-off the home side looked to have the best of it, with a particularly punishing special teams play from rookie Conor Wilson – fresh back from injury – helping to set the tone early on. The first Thunder drive was well managed by a D that came out big early on, with critical tackles and a stop on 3rd down resulting in a field goal attempt that Thunder failed to convert.
An offence which had struggled in two tough away games came out looking as if they knew they had a point to prove, moving the ball early with a big play to Tight End Luke Neil. A fumble killed that particular drive, but Safety Ben Brown took it upon himself to single-handedly crush the Thunder’s next drive as he first made a touchdown-saving tackle on a run play, before showing his ball-hawking ability to come up with a big interception on a ball that seemingly refused to come back down to earth.
A three-and-out each later we were still at 0-0. The first points were put on the board not long after, when a long sideline pass play to WR Ben Weeks put the Cheetahs in redzone territory. A smart scramble from QB Jason Scurfield left the ball on the 1 yard line, but the drive ended in a field goal and a 3-0 lead for the home side. It didn’t take much longer before the Cheetahs got back in the redzone again. A high-tempo drive up the field, assisted by pass interference call on the Sussex D, resulted in a smart pass play to RB Adam Adeniji and the rookie back duly executed. Breaking tackles and pulling off a Todd Gurly-esque (he wishes) hurdle, Adeniji broke into the endzone for his second TD of the season. A converted XP and the black and yellow were 10-0 up!
A few mistakes began to creep into the Cheetahs game, as a fumble on the Offence was recovered by Sussex and tackles missed on the D allowed Thunder to gain some momentum just before the half. A long-pass play down the sideline was well caught for the TD, bringing the score at the break to 10-7.
Unfortunately, things just didn’t pan out as well for the Cheetahs in the second half. Again, it was the special teams that set the tone early as only a block in the back penalty prevented the Thunder’s first drive of the half from starting inside the Cheetahs’ redzone. They got there in the very next drive regardless, converting on a pitch play to give the away side the lead for the first time in the game… and it was a lead that held.
Multiple Cheetahs drives stalled as the Offence failed to move with the same fluidity that they had shown early on. On the D, Defensive Backs Patrick Armstrong and Tom Hutton each made important break-ups in the passing game as Sussex missed another field goal and gave the home-side plenty of hope that they could bring it back. The momentum stalled somewhat however, after a safety on a punt gave the Thunder a free couple of points. This seemed to lift the Thunder, who were arguably the better side from this point on. A short passing touchdown gave the away side breathing space in the score which, despite good plays from QB Scurfield and Receiver TJ Ajayi on a big drive, the Offence couldn’t find a way to reduce. The game finished that way, at 10-24. A much improved performance from the Herts Cheetahs, who will be disappointed not to have come away with their first win of the season but pleased with their progress.
The Cheetahs are at home again on the 5th June as they face the 3-1 Kent Exiles.
Medical cover for the game was provided by Old Stable.