The Hertfordshire Cheetahs are the 2018 SFC 2 Champions, following a defeat of their closest rivals the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts. Played on a beautifully clear day on a carpet of a field at Leicester Road Stadium, the home of the Leicester Falcons, the Cheetahs finally won a Championship at their fourth attempt in the club’s history.
Both teams were able to enjoy an opening ceremony including a run out to a chosen song (Wiz Khalifa’s Black & Yellow for the Cheetahs, naturally), before the national anthem played and the players lined up in front of their respective travelling fans.
There were nerves. That much was clear – it was evident in the way the players moved on the sidelines and the assortment of unusual penalties committed. But the Cheetahs fought through them, and executed their early gameplan almost perfectly. Winning the toss and electing to defer was something they had done all but one time this season. The one time they changed the script had been the loss to Portsmouth. No need to tempt fate here.
Portsmouth’s power run game was no stranger to the Cheetahs D, who stood firm to turn the ball over on the very first drive. This was crucial, as the Cheetahs knew that taking the lead was important against a team so adept at running the ball – and thus the clock. To that end, the Offence
was required to get on the board early and it couldn’t have gone better. A beautifully sold play-action from QB Martin Brown sucked the entire Dreadnoughts defence towards RB Adam Adeniji, before Brown unleashed a downfield bomb for the wide open TJ Ajayi, who was able to stroll into the house untouched.
At 6-0, the game settled into somewhat of a stalemate as each side probed and prodded for weaknesses and ultimately came up short. Punter Luke Neal minimised opportunities for the Dreadnoughts, doing an exceptional job to grab both good field position for the defence and keep the ball away from the dangerous returner. The Cheetahs twice got into scoring range before committing errors that on another day may have proved more costly. Pressure from the Cheetahs D line gave DB Ben Brown the opportunity to make a play on a hastily thrown ball and he made what would be his first pick of the game. Portsmouth were able to drive back into field goal range but found a Stuart Butcher shaped obstacle flung into the way, preventing them taking any points into the half.
The second half saw something of a role reversal for two teams who had built their seasons on their offensive identities: Cheetahs as the air raid attack, Portsmouth as the power run side, With
everything on the line however, the Dreadnoughts started slinging the ball. DC Craig Barnes smelled blood – this was a unit filled with ballhawks who had proved all season that they could shut down the pass game – and it wasn’t long before LB Jordan Legge showed up. He snatched a wayward pass
made from a Dreadnoughts QB again scrambling away from ends Kayode Sampson and Patrick Armstrong, which Legge snagged, dodged the tackle attempt from the offending QB and took it 35 yards to the endzone to stretch the lead.
Portsmouth awoke. Their powerful running got them 7 points back on the board and made it a one score game. Nerves settled back in. The Cheetahs had seen this script before – twice in the past two seasons they had thrown away leads against the Dreadnoughts. But the Black and Yellow were resilient.
OC Will Sparke began to grind down the clock and the energy of the blue defence, leaning more on Adeniji and the power of the offensive line. Left Tackle Sam Thornton bullied his man, Right Tackle Andy Dickins crushed the rush, Stuart Butcher held the centre ground, Guards Luke Clark and
Chris Shepherd opened the running lanes. Slowly but surely, the Cheetahs ground their way closer and closer before Adeniji deservedly punched it in.
With just minutes left on the clock, the writing was on the wall. An interception thrown by the Cheetahs gave the Dreadnoughts a glimmer of hope, but the Cheetahs defence were having none of
it. Ben Brown in particular was a man possessed and, clearly irritated to have seen Portsmouth put points past the defence, promptly ensured they didn’t do so again by picking the ball off on consecutive Portsmouth drives.
The icing on the cake was the final touchdown drive, in which a replica of the first fake play to TJ Ajayi set up a redzone opportunity and another TD throw for Martin Brown, this time a fade to Rowan Huggins who battled well to hold on to the ball whilst being smothered by the cornerback.
Tirell Jeffers hauled in yet another desperate pass for the interception and the Cheetahs offence were able to come out in victory formation. But first, Martin Brown was subsituted off to a standing ovation, whilst Jake Barnes came on for the final snap. Conor Wilson – who had been injured for much of the season – also headed on to the field, alongside Ben Weeks who came on for his last offensive snap as a Cheetah.
HC Craig Barnes This wonderful result is fitting reward for the hard work that the coaches and players have put in over the best part of a year. Even on the Friday before the game, our offence were practicing the very play we shocked Portsmouth with on our first offensive series. Our defence were quite superb, Ben Brown in particular. The Dreadnoughts QB was having a nightmare, but the D line induced that and our secondary took the ball away. It was great stuff to watch.I am immensely proud of my team, they have fully deserved this win, we will allow ourselves a short period of rejoicing, then the preparation for our life in Division 1 begins. We will be ready for the undoubted challenge.
OC Will Sparke That was a heck of an exciting game but it was very gratifying to see the work we have all put in pay off at exactly the right time. The offence was electric when it mattered and we drove the ball well for 4 quarters. While we may feel we should possibly have scored a few more, I can’t lie, I’m overwhelmingly happy with the end result.”
For Offensive Captain Ben Weeks, “This was a really special moment. This was my last game with the Cheetahs and one I’ll always remember. This team put in everything during this game and I’m unbelievably proud of what we’ve been able to do. Adam, Rowan, Luke, Butch, Tom, Martin, Sam… everyone… everyone absolutely killed it”.
Pride was also the order of the day for Defensive Captain Josh Kent: “I’m so proud of not only the defence but the whole team. Everyone did their bit to get us to the final but that wasn’t enough for us. We fought hard, didn’t let up and all our hard work this season paid off.”
Receiving: Tj Ajayi, Rowan Huggins
Rushing: Adam Adeniji
Defensive: Jordan Legge