The Cheetahs returned to action on Sunday after a lengthy six weeks off. Whilst having a rest period is always welcome, the Cheetahs were concerned a six week break may affect the storming form they started the season with. The Hertfordshire set up were up against it before the game had even started due to high levels of traffic on route to Bournemouth, delaying the game by an hour. On arrival, the Cheetahs knew they were in for a tough game due to the relentless sun being draining even before the pads and helmets went on, and with no breeze on the field of play it was going to take its toll on both sides. A hasty warmup and a few quick drills were all that the Cheetahs could muster before the officials blew the whistle for kick-off.
The Cheetahs started the game with a well drilled kick off unit trapping the Bobcats returner within their own 20. The home side started strong though, working their way down the field with a mixture of run and pass plays – maybe it was good execution from the Bobcats or maybe the Cheetahs defence were struggling to find their rhythm after the rushed arrival. Either way, the defiant defence settled into the game and stepped up once the Bobcats moved into Hertfordshire’s territory, forcing the Bournemouth outfit to punt. A good punt return from the Cheetahs set up the offence at their own 40-yard line. The long break was quickly forgotten as they got straight down to business, leaning on a dominant ground game that drove them down the field. Running Back Dan Levett started the rushing with big runs back to back, before in-form Quarterback Jason Scurfield connected with red zone threat Ben Weeks for the first score of the game. The 2-point conversion was unsuccessful.
Again, the aggressive Herts defence forced the Bobcats to a minimal gain, shutting down both the Bobcats run and short passing games. This led them to bring on their punt unit. A couple of quick moves made the Bobcats defenders miss returner TJ Ajayi, who set up the Cheetahs in their own half. The run game for the gold and black was so dominant with Levett in the backfield; however, with the sun sapping their energy, Interim Head Coach Roger Brown knew that alternating players was as key as the plays being called. Adam Adeniji joined the fray, and started to wreak his own havoc on the Bournemouth defence. Whether it was the defensive line trying to stop the runs between the tackles, or the linebackers trying to contain his outside runs, Adeniji wouldn’t be halted. Whether he was dragging the Bournemouth players with him or leaving them in the dust he was always going to work his way down the field. The drive – inevitably – ended with Adeniji running the ball into the end zone for 6 more points for the Cheetahs. The first quarter ended with the Cheetahs 12-0 up.
Bournemouth’s first quarter was emulated in the second, as their ground game was ceased by great work on the line from Cheetahs Nose Tackle Ryan Hargreaves and brute Middle Linebacker Matt Bright forcing them into throwing the ball downfield. The ball-hawking Free Safety Mark Foster was in the vicinity when an under thrown ball from the Bournemouth Quarterback was sniffed out. Fosters interception and return set a tone for the offence to keep pounding. The Cheetahs rotation at running back paid dividends as speedy versatile running back Conor Wilson added another dimension to the ground game stretching the field with plays to the outside. All this ground and pound couldn’t have been achieved without a huge mention to the offensive line. The big guys upfront not only paved the way, but with no backups to rotate in on a devastatingly hot day, these five guys earned their well-deserved burgers post game. A special mention to rookie Guard Sebastian Donovan who made his first start for the Cheetah Pride and impacted the ball game with tenacity and grit. All seemed to be going too well for the Cheetahs. Disaster struck however, when starting Quarterback Jason Scurfield scrambled out of the pocket to the right and punished the Bobcats cornerback with a great truck, only to fall awkwardly onto his shoulder, suffering a game-ending injury in the process. A huge blow to the Hertfordshire outfit and everyone who is part of the Cheetah Pride wishes Jason the speediest of recoveries.
Quarterback Deniz Karagulle stepped into the QB1 role with ease. The wily veteran gathered and charged the offence downfield with Adeniji running in for his second touchdown of the game. The defence came up big again forcing another punt, however this aggressive mentality that has been hugely evident this season within the defence didn’t stop there. A massive hit by Defensive End Andy Dickens on punt return shook the Bobcats to the core and energized an already buzzing offence. The next drive would start in Cheetah territory. Karagulle handed the ball off to Adeniji, he bounced it outside and found Wide Receiver captain TJ Ajayi making a huge block downfield taking out 3(!!) of the last few Bournemouth defenders. Adeniji then displayed excellent athleticism to perform a disgusting stutter-step that seemed to turn the Bobcats defence to stone, before he turned on the jets and ran for 50-yards to the end zone. Adeniji finished off the play by running in the 2-point conversion. The Bobcats offence struggled to get the ball moving in the next drive, resorting to big-shot attempts through the air. Fortunately for the Cheetahs this boded wellas again, Safety Mark Foster was there to intercept the ball for his second pick of the game. This time he ran it all the way home for his first pick 6 of the season/ An eventful second quarter finished with a great drive from the ever-fighting Bournemouth side who’s Running Back pierced the Cheetahs defence and punched it into the end zone. A missed field goal kept their score to only 6 points. At half-time, the Cheetahs were up 32-6.
A good kick return by Conor Wilson weaving his way to the Cheetahs 35 set the tone for the re-energised offence. Offensive lineman duo, Guard and Tackle (and bromancing roommates) Luke Clark and James Lewis kept the left-hand side of the line strong, whilst Centre Kris McCombe held the middle, allowing for Levitt, Adeniji and Wilson to carry on pounding the rock on the ground. Aerial relief came in the form of big Tight End Luke Neal who caught the ball over the home teams Linebackers and carried on for some solid RAC yards. However, it was the turn of the right-hand side of the offensive line to come up big, rookie Guard Seb Donavan and veteran Right Tackle Ruban Sriranjan made sealing blocks which allowed Wilson to run into the endzone with his 3rd Touchdown of the year. A flag threatened to ruin the play, though we must credit the officials for rectifying what they saw as a bad call on their own part. Adeniji once again finished the drive off by getting the 2-point conversion.
The Bobcats offence came out with what seemed to be a whole new game plan in the second half. Their ground game started to take shape, with many misdirection plays driving them down the field and making crucial 3rd downs. However, the Cheetahs “bend but don’t break” mentality held firm and forced them to go for it on 4th and short in the Cheetahs half of the field. Clutch plays from Outside Linebacker Jason Wells and Strong Safety Ben Brown caused the turnover on downs therefore giving the ball back to the Offence. Sticking to the ground game was becoming harder as the Bournemouth defence started crowding the box and sealing the edges. A well-read defensive play saw the Bournemouth Outside Linebacker in the backfield to meet Running Back Wilson, and with a good hit he caused the fumble and scooped the ball up for a turnover. This could’ve possibly been the turning point the Bobcats needed. With Bournemouth’s misdirection game flowing, it opened the door for the air game. The Bobcats Quarterback started to drop back into the pocket, inadvertently presenting an opportunity for a sack when Defensive End Henry Jacob came hauling off the edge with a big hit to the QB. The rush on the passer meant he threw the ball away in a panic, only to be intercepted by Cheetahs Strong Safety Ben Brown. The play was stopped by the officials and discussed at length. To the dismay of the Cheetahs, the officials called a targeting penalty on Jacob which unfortunately meant he was ejected from the game and put the offences starting position back 15 yards.
As Jacob plays both ways (a big run blocking and pass catching Tight End for the offence) the Cheetahs adapted to the ejection and Karagulle started spreading the ball around to the Wide Receivers. In spite of the good form early on, the tireless sun started to play an impact on the Cheetahs as silly penalties started to occur due to draining energies. The officials, who called a great game, were precise and clear with coaches and captains at what the penalties were. Despite the setbacks, the big play ability from Adeniji was still causing the Bobcats trouble. With downhill aggressive running, number 30 had only one thing on his mind. Points. He made hard yards through the middle, before running the ball home from the outside to make his fourth touchdown of the day. Then, like the glimmer off of the wily veterans locks, Karagulle’s end zone throw to Ajayi shone like Zeus’ thunderbolts raining down on the Bobcats home field, converting the 2-point attempt. This left the Cheetahs at 48-6, only 2 points remaining to get their fourth 50 burger in five games. There was no stopping the Cheetahs defence, who looked equally hungry for the burger. They forced the Bobcats into a fourth-and-long situation with only a few minutes left in the ball game. A big play by corner back Salim Elomari – tackling the Bobcats Wide Receiver for no gain – resulted in a turnover on downs, giving the ball back to the Hertfordshire Offence with only a minute and 40 seconds to get the necessary points. A well ran 2-minute drill by Karagulle worked the Cheetahs offence into the Bobcats 10-yard line. With only seconds to go, a pitch left to Adeniji and a massive block by Full Back Craig Cudmore, was all that was needed to see number 30 work his way into the end zone for his fifth score of the game. The final score was 54-6, meaning the Cheetahs keep the crown as the “Burgeryest team in Britball”. A big performance from Adeniji showcased his form that was so dominant in 2016, after a slow start by his high standards in the 2017 campaign.
Defensive Coordinator Coach Craig Barnes had this to say after the game “This result was very pleasing defensively, the players had prepared well and played at a high level of physicality all game. We are starting to hit form”. Looking forward, the Cheetahs have a two week break until they welcome Maidstone Pumas to St Albans Rugby Club.