On a day where the Cheetahs welcomed past players to join them at St Albans Rugby Club, the Hertfordshire outfit made it two wins in a row in Division One after a hard fought game against fellow SFC2 2019 finalists the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts.
Portsmouth would receive the opening kickoff but were forced to punt, only for the Cheetahs to return the favour after a drive that started with such promise. The away side would again be forced to kick the ball away on their next drive but a short punt gave Martin Brown and the Cheetahs Offence excellent field position inside the 35. Unfortunately the offence couldn’t convert the short field into points after turning the ball over on downs. The Dreadnoughts would return to the field as the first quarter expired.
Both defences would continue to dominate the game and the Cheetahs were the first to come up with a big play. A long drive by the Dreadnoughts was thwarted when an overthrown pass was picked off by Josh Dunnet to give the ball back to the Hertfordshire Offence. Strong running by Adam Adeniji behind a young offensive line led by second year Centre Dan Wiggins would get the Cheetahs in range and they appeared to break the deadlock in a long touchdown run, but it was called back for a holding penalty. A few plays later the Dreadnoughts would settle the interception by score picking off Brown in the endzone.
Both teams would exchange punts before the Portsmouth Offence would find some rhythm of their own and drove down inside the 20 and into field goal range. The black and gold were not about to give up points at this stage of the game and Stuart Butcher burst through the line to block the kick attempt and keep the score, as it started, at 0-0 as time expired in the first half.
The Cheetahs would start with the ball at the beginning of the second half, but would immediately give the ball back to the Dreadnoughts as Brown threw his second interception of the game on the first play of the drive. Not to be outdone however the Hertfordshire Defence tied the turnover count, when Dan Levett forced and recovered a Dreadnought fumble.
This was just the break the home side needed. Three plays later Adam Adeniji, seemingly tackled in the backfield, would turn a loss into a touchdown as he sprinted free from 44 yards out, for the first score of the game. The extra point was added by Legge to give the Cheetahs a 7-0 lead.
The Defence, sensing the momentum of the game had well and truly swung in favour of the Cheetahs would force another quick three and out and give the Hertfordshire Offence another opportunity to score. They duly obliged. A 10 play drive ended in a 26 yard touchdown pass from Martin Brown to Hertfordshire University graduate Axl Rodwell to give the Cheetahs a 13-0 lead. The extra point was blocked but the home side had a two score lead they would not relinquish.
As the fourth quarter began Portsmouth once again found themselves inside the red zone. But, up stepped the ever present Jordan Legge to force a fumble on the Portsmouth quarterback and recover the football to give the ball back to his side. Still, the Cheetahs could not shake the Dreadnoughts and a miscommunication between quarterback and receiver resulted in Brown’s and his teams third turnover of the game and gift Portsmouth another opportunity to score.
Portsmouth were, once again, unable to convert the turnover into points as a fourth down pass was well defended by Calvin Chan and Fab Hayward and fell incomplete. Back-to-back-to-back punts brought the Dreadnoughts offence back on the field inside the last two minutes of the game. The south coast side were able to score a consolation touchdown when their slot receiver took an end around, reversed field and broke several tackles on his way to a 75 yard touchdown. Portsmouth would also score the 2pt conversion to heighten the nerves around St Albans Rugby Club. However, the ensuing onside kick attempt went out of bounds and the Cheetahs could kneel out the game for a well deserved second win of the season.
Head Coach Craig Barnes had this to say after the win “Offensively we were a shadow of ourselves in this game, if it wasn’t for Adam and our O line we may well have lost the game. The defence were tremendous, they covered well and didn’t give Portsmouth’s QB a chance to settle. I was pleased with the turnovers they created, they really controlled their opponents.
We have suffered a number of injuries as a result of a tough game, we will see what our squad depth is like on Sunday against Sussex. I am utterly confident we will compete however, we are made of strong stuff.”
The Cheetahs now have have a week to prepare for the trip to the Sussex Thunder who will be looking to bounce back themselves after a narrow loss to division leaders the Solent Thrashers. You can follow the game on ScoreStream and kick off is at 1.30pm in Brighton.