The Cheetahs move to 2-0 after a tough game away in Swindon. A real battle of a match on a hard-as-nails pitch, both teams had opportunities and made plays, but it was the Black & Yellow who executed most effectively as they ran out with a 30-8 victory.
It didn’t always look like it would go that way. Early offensive drives, though promising, were often stalled on the cusp of scores. Thankfully, the Defence were at their most stingy, picking up where they left off with pressure coming from all over the line. Linebackers Dan Levett and Jordan Legge in particular had productive days both stuffing the run and making plays in the backfield. It was this ability to keep Swindon from moving the chains that gave the Cheetahs O the opportunity they needed.
The deadlock was broken when Adam Adeniji forced the ball home from short yardage, escaping pressure through the middle before diving through the hole created by the line and into the endzone. Whilst that didn’t quite open the floodgates, there was a marked relief throughout the Cheetahs O who had been desperate to get that first score on the board. The offence began to showcase its diversity in talent, heavily utilising wideouts Rowan Huggins, Ben Weeks and Tom McQuillin in addition to the hard running provided by powerback Matt Lake. An offensive line that had impressed against Hastings again made their mark, allowing QB Jake Barnes time in the pocket to pick his targets.
Multiple redzone interceptions cost the Cheetahs the opportunity to extend their lead, though not for long. After a strong defensive stand which gave the Cheetahs field position at around halfway, Barnes floated a perfect pass into the hands of Huggins, who showed excellent awareness to shed attempted tackles and make a 20 yard dash to the house. Deservedly for his hard work, Matt Lake added another score from short range shortly after, and all of a sudden the Cheetahs had breathing room going into halftime.
The D weren’t allowed to let that lead slip. Recognising the Storm liked to run with their mobile QB, the black and yellow adapted and frustrated the Storm’s efforts to get back into the game. Great play awareness from Ben Brown to seal the edge set up an early 3rd and long, on which CB Josh Dunnet made a crucial play on the ball to bring up a punt on the home side’s first drive of the second half. An intense Offence were unlucky to get picked off in the endzone by what was truly a superb diving play by the Swindon Cornerback, but the Cheetahs responded almost immediately when Dan Levett read the QB’s eyes and hauled in an interception of his own. Not learning their lesson fast enough, Swindon carried on trying to throw over the middle, this time an athletic play from Safety Jason Scurfield giving the ball back to the offence. This was Scurfield’s second interception in as many games, and whilst he didn’t return it for a score this time around it was definitely one for the highlight reel!
After an extended drive that took much of the 3rd Quarter, Swindon did add a score of their own on a long rush to the outside. A relatively nervy period of the game ensued, with each side exchanging possession on downs before a couple of huge plays from the Cheetahs Offence did much to close out the game. First, Quarterback Martin Brown identified the soft spot in coverage for WR Huggins to catch, break a tackle and run almost to the goalline – with assistance from a huge block by Slot Receiver Bradley Clarke. Then, on 4th and Goal, Brown took advantage of Tight End Luke Neal’s size to grab the score and put the game almost out of reach for Swindon. This was to be the last score of the game. Two big tackles from Linebacker Dan Merritt to force yet another punt from Swindon proved key as a resolute Hertfordshire Defence held strong for the final moments, allowing the black and yellow to take the win and move joint with Portsmouth at the top of the SFC 2 South.
Head Coach Craig Barnes was particularly pleased with the away sides ability to overcome the challenges posed in the game, saying afterwards that “we are delighted with this result, and are very aware of its implications for the conference. We had to deal with early adversity, but the team kept driving on and players really stepped up. Defensively we were excellent, particularly in the first half. We can go into out bye weeks with ever-growing confidence. We’re onto Bournemouth!”.
Offensive coordinator Will Sparke echoed Coach Barnes, admitting that early adversity “forced us to bind together as a unit with multiple players stepping up”. Singling out the offensive line for praise, Coach Sparke noted their “physical performance which kept both our quarterbacks off the ground for the whole game whilst also helping us grind out some tough yards on the ground”. The OC also credited rookie RB Matt Lake, who was integral to clock control despite taking a series of hard hits – and was duly rewarded with his first TD as a Cheetah. Finally, Sparke said that teams have reason to worry about the receiving core, who put up 270 yards and a pair of TDs between them: “they are becoming a force to be reckoned with”.
Dan Levett, a linebacker who stood out on the day, said “it was a good but tough game, I’m definitely feeling it afterwards I think that the defence did a good job at turning the ball over and stopping the third downs. We still have things to improve on but I think it’s the start to a very successful season.”
Making his very first appearance for the Cheetahs, Rowan Huggins was named Offensive MVP after a monster performance at wideout. The former Sheffield Sabres star said he “enjoyed my first game for the Cheetahs. I’m happy to score and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season”.
Rushing: Adam Adeniji, Matt Lake
Receiving from QB Jake Barnes: Rowan Huggins, Luke Neal
Rushing Yards: Matt Lake (39)
Receiving Yards: Rowan Huggins (203)
Passing Yards: Jake Barnes (192)
Tackles for Loss: Jordan Legge (3)
Sacks: Jordan Legge (1), Dan Levett (1)
Interceptions: Jason Scurfield (1), Dan Levett (1)