The Cheetahs moved to 3-0 with a 24-8 win away at the Bournemouth Bobcats. On an exceptionally hot day on the South coast, the Cheetahs arrived for what they knew could prove to be a crucial game in determining the outcome of the SFC 2 South.
Prior to kickoff, a minutes silence was held with both teams linking arms in memory of the late Charles Mack.
The importance of the game showed in the early stages, as nervy opening drives led to a number of punts by both sides. The Cheetahs Offence took a number of deep shots in the opening stages, probing the Bournemouth secondary and finding them resolute for now. Good tackling and coverage from the D completely stifled the Bobcats O from getting anything going, though credit is due to their punt team who repeatedly provided awkward starting field position for the black and yellow.
Toward the end of Q1, the away side came close to breaking the deadlock after starting backed up deep within their own territory. An extended drive prominently featured returning RB Conor Wilson, before ultimately ending in a redzone interception. The hard work wasn’t to be entirely undone though, as the defence immediately forced a fumble within the Bobcats 5 that allowed Wilson to punch the ball in for 6. Bournemouth reacted strongly, first running up the middle and then throwing to the sideline for back-to-back chunk gains, though they ultimately missed the field goal and a good opportunity for an immediate response.
A succession of punts was again exchanged, though an excellent rally from the Cheetahs D and ensuing return from TJ Ajayi put the Offence in position to succeed. When this was squandered via an unfortunate tipped interception, the frustration was evident from an Offence who knew they’d left too many points on the field against a Bobcats side who were refusing to go away. Within the 2 minute warning, QB Jake Barnes showed excellent composure to channel that frustration on the following drive, converting clutch passes first to Ajayi and then to WR Rowan Huggins for the score and taking a mental weight off of Hertfordshire just before halftime.
The second half showed the change that the late touchdown had wrought, as the Cheetahs began to play with a little more freedom, though with one or two more flags then they would like. Not to be swayed, QB Martin Brown unleashed an early deep shot from inside Cheetahs territory that was hauled in by WR Ben Weeks and downed at the Bobcats 10. Conor Wilson seized the opportunity, smashing home his second TD of the day and season from short range, though shortened endzones meant another unsuccessful 2pt conversion.
Bournemouth were themselves victims of the shortened endzones on their next drive, as they were perhaps unfortunate to be denied their first points of the day when ruled out of the back on a pass. Desperate to get on the board at this point, they were frustrated by two exceptional plays by Herts’ cornerbacks – first an athletic pass defence from Josh Dunnet and then a fumble forced by Charles Kahonde and recovered by the D. Bournemouth didn’t have to wait much longer for points however, as they exploited the blitz on a huge running play from maybe the fastest man alive, converting the 2pt to make score 18-8. The Cheetahs were now trying to manage the clock, though a few nerves crept into the game as they were forced to punt again. The D held firm, a huge combined tackle from LB Jordan Legge and CB Kahonde particularly displaying the desire to win in this Hertfordshire side. Legge then found the gap for a sack on a crucial 3rd down inside the Cheetahs half, forcing a punt and a sigh of relief from the away sideline.
The game was finally put away in the closing stages, first as the Defence forced a turnover on downs, and then as QB Brown showed awareness and impressive athleticism to turn the corner and run the ball in himself, sparking celebrations on the sideline as the Cheetah Pride held on for the 24-8 victory.
HC/DC Craig Barnes heralded an excellent performance on all three sides of the ball: “All three parts of this team weighed in with top class performances. Defence was as physical as I have seen this season. Both our corners, Charles Quincy and Josh Dunnet were tremendous in run support. Jordan Legge was superb at Sam, and Tirell Jeffers was our top tackler in his first appearance of the season.
Special Teams are also quietly turning into a highly effective unit. They have consistently given us fantastic field position all year, and this game was no exception. They too were very physical, I really enjoy watching them. Offence once again proved they just keep rolling, regardless of what gets thrown at us.
Barnes did note that “Discipline was an issue…we conceded a number of unnecessary penalties”. Ultimately though, the HC was pleased with the victory and “Very proud of this group of players. We are very much looking forward to our Homecoming against Hastings.”
OC Will Sparke reserved special praise for the hard running of Conor Wilson for “knocking out just under 100 yards rushing and teaming up with Matt Lake to punch in 2 TDs” as well as QB Martin Brown for his “second half performance and sealing the win with a ballsy last minute touchdown”.
Running Back Matt Lake was “Proud to be named the Offensive MVP for our matchup with Bournemouth”. Matt noted that the entire team “Worked for each other and came out with the result we wanted. I think as a unit we are in a rhythm now; Everyone ahead of us this season should be rightfully worried!”
Defensive MVP Charles Kahonde forced 2 fumbles and made 3 solo tackles including a crucial big hit late in the game. A man of few words, Charles simply said “Everybody got plans. Until they get hit”.
Rushing: Conor Wilson (2), Martin Brown
Receiving from QB Jake Barnes: Rowan Huggins
Rushing Yards: 165
Receiving Yards: 169
Receiving Yards Allowed: 45
Rushing Yards Allowed: 88
Rushing Yards: Conor Wilson (97)
Receiving Yards: TJ Ajayi (68)
Sacks: Jordan Legge (3)
Tackles: Tirell Jeffers (3)
Tackles for Loss: Tirell Jeffers, Jordan Legge (3)