The Hertfordshire Cheetahs Senior Squad travelled down to Brighton to face playoff hopefuls the Sussex Thunder and came away with a well-deserved win in the South Coast sun.
Hertfordshire would receive the opening a kickoff and give their offence an opportunity to rebound after a disappointing performance against the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts a week prior. They did not disappoint. On the first play from scrimmage, running back Adam Adeniji, as he had done in week 1 against the Berkshire Renegades, out fought and out paced the Sussex defence to rampage for a 57 yard touchdown. The extra point was good to give the visiting side a 7-0 lead.
The defence, buoyed by the offences fast start came out firing. After a nine yard sack by Andy Dickins, Sussex were compelled to punt the ball back to the Cheetahs hot offence. Unfortunately, the offence couldn’t replicate their fast start and after a false start and two incomplete passes, were forced to punt the ball back to the Thunder. A good return set the Thunder up in the Cheetahs half, but strong defence once again stifled the offence and brought up fourth down. The gold and black brought on their kick block team expecting a field goal attempt, but the Sussex offence stayed on the field. There were then farcical scenes as Defensive captain Jordan Legge and the whole sideline immediately called for the timeout but the referee crew did not see or hear the cries but Sussex snapped the ball and passed over the top and scored their opening touchdown of the game as the defence waited for the referees whistle. Despite protests from the Cheetahs sideline, the touchdown stood and Sussex kicked the extra point to tie the game 7-7.
Following the Thunder touchdown, the offence came back on the field with a chip on their shoulder and immediately got to work. It took them just six plays to answer back as Adeniji broke free into the secondary following blocks from the returning offensive lineman Tyler Fawbush and Keith Riley and took it all the way to the endzone for a 37 yard score. The extra point snap was fumbled and the Cheetahs had to settle for just six. 13-7.
Sussex sensed the defence were still reeling after the previous touchdown and were determined to answer back themselves. Four plays into the drive the Sussex running back ran straight through the heart of the defence for a 53 yard touchdown. The extra point was good and Sussex took the lead for the first time in the game by a solitary point as the first quarter drew to a close.
Wanting to make amends straight away, the offence came out slinging, but took one gamble too many as Martin Brown under threw his receiver on the sideline for his first interception of the day. Momentum was now well and truly with the hosts but they could not make it pay as they failed to get the necessary yardage on fourth down and turned the ball back over on downs. A penalty quickly put an end to the next drive as the Cheetahs were once again forced to punt the ball away. This time the Sussex offence did not fail to put more points on the board. A 10 play drive resulted in 4 yard touchdown run and the Thunder extended their lead to 13-21. Not wanting to be outdone, Martin Brown and the offence mounted their own 11 play drive as time was winding down in the second quarter. On first and goal on the two yard line, and with 5 seconds left in the half, the Cheetahs elected to pass rather than attempt the chip shot field goal. The ball fell incomplete and time expired on an exciting first half of division one football.
It did not take long for the Cheetahs to have another opportunity to tie the game up. A penalty on the opening kickoff of the second half pushed Sussex back deep in their half. A quick three and out followed and Sussex punted the ball away into the arms of the waiting Jordan Legge who returned it 39 yards to the Sussex two. Following the block of full back Matt Lake, Adeniji converted the short field position into his and his team’s third touchdown of the day. The Cheetahs elected to go for two, which Adeniji converted to bring the scores level at 21 a piece. Back-to-back short drives and punts meant Sussex had another chance to break the deadlock. A long drive set the Thunder up for a 21 yard field goal attempt. This time the field goal block team were brought on the field and got pressure on the kicker who missed the posts wide right. The score remained 21-21. The Cheetahs offence were once more unable to gain many yards against a physical Sussex defence and again went to punt the ball away. However a bad snap gave the home side excellent field position. This time it appeared the Thunder had taken the lead on a 15 yard touchdown pass, but an obvious holding call brought the ball back and a few plays later Sussex would turn the ball over on downs after going for it on fourth and long. As the third quarter drew to a close Hertfordshire would punt the ball back to the Thunder and on this occasion kicked the ball away cleanly. The returner once again looked to have given the home team the lead weaving his way into the endzone, but another obvious penalty, this time a block in the back, brought the ball back to the Sussex 15 yard line.
The Cheetahs defence were determined not to let the Thunder add to the score sheet. Up stepped Jason Scurfield to intercept an errant Sussex pass and give the ball back to the travelling Cheetahs. A punt by Hertfordshire followed by another short drive by the Thunder meant they once more had to punt the ball away. This time it was the Cheetahs who were to have a touchdown ruled back as Rodwell ran the punt back for a touchdown, but waved his arm signalling a fair catch and the ball was rightfully brought back. The offence, therefore, had another opportunity to score, but Brown threw his second interception of the day to give the ball back to Sussex just inside their own half. Again the away defence stepped up and the team in blue and red punted the ball away. As the game entered the final five minutes, it looked like a tie was on the cards. However, up stepped Martin Brown, clearly looking to make amends for his two interceptions, who found Axl Rodwell in acres of space and open field in front him for a 58 yard touchdown pass. The away sideline went into delirium, much like the away Man City crowd at the Amex Stadium a stones throw away from Falmer Sports complex. The extra point was good and the Cheetahs had the lead for the first time since midway through the second quarter, 28-21.
The Thunder were now in desperation mode, but the Cheetahs defence would not be beaten. On fourth down the Sussex QB was forced to roll out of the pocket by the chasing pack of Hertfordshire defensive lineman and threw the ball up for grabs only for it to fall incomplete. All it needed was a first down and the Cheetahs could kneel the game out. Up stepped the unstoppable Adeniji again who ran for ten yards and the Hertfordshire Cheetahs secured another famous away win in the second tier of British American Football.
Defensive MVP Andy Dickins had this to say on the result: “This is a fantastic result for the club against quality opposition. Three years ago I was part of a Cheetahs team that lost by more than 50 points away to Sussex so it shows how far we have come in that time. I thought it was a fantastic effort by everyone on Defense to shut them out in the second half, and our Offense delivered under pressure when it mattered the most. We will take great confidence from this but aware there are are a lot of areas in which we can still Improve. I am undoubtedly biased but just wanted to give a special mention to my teammates on the D-line as this was easily our best performance as a unit to date. Credit has to go to our coaches for their work in getting us to this point”.
Head Coach Craig Barnes was full of praise at the end of the game: “This is probably one of our greatest performances, certainly since I’ve been with the adult team. We had to dig very deep to draw the win out, I am very proud of the players. We have already exceeded expectations this season, it appears the sky is the limit”.
The Senior squads next game is on Sunday 26 May away to the Oxford Saints where they will look to continue their impressive undefeated start to the season. You can follow the game on ScoreStream here.