The Hertfordshire Cheetahs scored early and often to take away a convincing win against the Berkshire Renegades in their first game back in Division One since 2016.
It did not take long for the Hertfordshire side to take the lead as Adeniji, on the first play from scrimmage, broke free for a quick 58yard rushing touchdown (XP good). On the ensuing kickoff, Dan Merritt forced a fumble which was recovered by the Cheetahs and two plays later Adeniji ran in for his and the teams second score of the day, to quieten the Berkshire sideline and give the Cheetahs a 14-0 lead inside the first minute.
The defence, not to be outdone by the offence, forced another turnover on the next Renegades drive as Jack Tripp tipped the ball up, for defensive tackle Andy Dickins to pluck the ball out of the air for his first ever interception. The offence capitalised on the short field with a quick three play drive, where Martin Brown hooked up with Rookie wide receiver Nick Ford for a 38yard touchdown pass. Legge once again added the extra point and the Cheetahs found themselves up 21 points.
A quick 3 and out by the Renegades offence gave the ball back to the Cheetahs, but a Lake fumble gave the ball and momentum to Berkshire who began to drive down the field as the first quarter expired. The start of the second quarter began with the Renegades offence inside the 10 yard line and on third and goal from the 2yard line, the Cheetahs defence stepped up once again as safety Matt Smith ripped the ball out from the Berkshire RB which was recovered by Josh Kent to bring the black and gold offence back on the field.
Martin Brown and the offence quickly got to work. A few short passes and strong running from Adam Adeniji moved the Cheetahs into range. The Offensive Line, led by veteran guard Stuart Butcher, gouged a massive hole for Adeniji to exploit, who obliged and ran in from 41yards for his third touchdown of the day to make the score 28-0.
Berkshire punted again, but Adeniji gave the ball back to the home side after fumbling the ball as he broke out in to the secondary. Not wanting to give Berkshire any momentum, Defensive Co-ordinator Ray Palmer called the perfect play and safety Matt Smith intercepted the ball and returned it to the house for a pick-six! 35-0.
However, the Cheetahs, sensing Berkshire were on the ropes, continued to put the pedal to the metal and after forcing a turnover on downs gave the offence another opportunity to score. Adeniji would not be denied his fourth TD of the day. From 18 yards out, Adeniji took the ball and looked to be tackled at the 8yard line, but dragged the two would-be Berkshire tacklers with him into the endzone to give the Cheetahs their biggest lead of the day at 42-0.
There was still time for the Renegades to respond and gain momentum. Two big pass plays resulted in a 20yard touchdown pass and they converted the two point conversion just before halftime to make the score 42-8 at the break.
The second half was a much quieter affair. Realising the game was already won, the Cheetahs rotated in second, third and fourth string players, such is the depth of the squad, to give them much valuable game time. However, on the opening drive of the second half, defensive captain Jordan Legge picked off the Berkshire QB and ducked and dived his way into the endzone for the defence’s second score of the day. Legge also added the extra points to give the Cheetahs a 49-8 lead and initiate rolling clock.
The rolling clock, shortening the game, would remain in place until mid way through the fourth quarter when Berkshire were finally able to move the ball out of the shadow of their own goal posts (thanks mostly to excellent punts from Legge) and put together a sustained drive. The Berkshire running back weaved through the Cheetahs defence from 33 yards out for the last score of the day. Berkshire again would complete the two-point conversion meaning the final score was 49-16 and both teams ground out the last few minutes of the game.
Head Coach Craig Barnes said after the victory “I am naturally very pleased with this result. We moved the ball fairly easily throughout the game, mostly down to tremendous blocking from our offensive line. However our defence, with seven turnovers, were awe-inspiring in their hunger for the ball. I’m very proud of the players, however I am certain we will face sterner tests, Berkshire included, as the season progresses. We are not about to rest on our laurels.”
Defensive MVP Jordan Legge (alongside fellow Hertfordshire University Graduate Matt Smith) emphasised the need to focus on the next fixture, “Sunday was very important for us, to start quickly and get a win under our belt is key to what we are looking to achieve this season. It was nice to see new guys performing on both sides of the ball and scoring. Time to prepare for the next game as we look to go 2-0”
The game also saw the return of referee Graham Hedges to competitive senior American Football after falling ill at the Cheetahs home game against Ipswich last year.
The Cheetahs will next face the familiar Portsmouth Dreadnoughts on Sunday 5th May at St Albans Rugby Club.