The Hertfordshire Cheetahs Senior squad finally accelerated away from the Oxford Saints in the fourth quarter and came away with a convincing win at Tilsley Park.
Both sides would observe a minute’s silence before kickoff in honour of Saints HC Andrew Day’s Father.
The game would start as a cagey affair between two strong division one sides with neither offence advancing the ball far down the field. Back-to-back-to-back punts would eventually give Hertfordshire the ball inside their own forty and a chance to take the lead. Big runs from Adam Adeniji would give the Cheetahs four opportunities from inside the Oxford 10, but costly false start penalties meant they were unable to convert and the score remained 0-0.
The Cheetah defence were in a punishing mood and the Saints continued to struggle to move the ball offensively and the first quarter expired with neither team able to add to the scoreboard. The Hertfordshire offence would change that on the next drive. Two quick passes from QB Martin Brown to WR Nick Ford would put them in range and Adeniji would complete the drive. Following strong blocking from the Cheetahs Offensive Line and Wide Receivers, including rookie Chimoi Young, Adeniji weaved through the Saints defence for a 34 yard touchdown. Missing both their kickers, Hertfordshire would go for two, which Adeniji would convert, 8-0.
The game then settled into a familiar pattern, with both teams punting the ball back to the other, before Brown would throw an interception for the Cheetahs only turnover on the day giving Oxford some momentum, but they were unable to convert it into points after failing on fourth down. On the next drive the Offence would find themselves in the red zone after a long 37 yard pass to Brown’s favourite target Ford, but again came away empty handed falling a yard short on fourth down. Time expired on the half and a single score separated the two teams.
That would change inside the first twenty seconds of the second half. A fantastic 73yard kick return from Conor Wilson, who followed a triple block by Jai Jackson, set the Cheetahs offence up on the two yard line. Adeniji would add his second TD of the day on the very next play. The 2pt conversion failed, but the Cheetahs had a 14-0 lead. The Hertfordshire defence continued to suffocate the Saints led by defensive MVP Josh Kent and rookie Patryk Cwiertnia but the offence couldn’t capitalise and the scoreboard remained unchanged for the rest of the third quarter.
However, the offence would click into gear in the fourth quarter. On the second drive of the fourth quarter Running Back Conor Wilson would get the score his long kick return deserved as he followed fantastic blocking from Centre Tyler Fawbush and Guard Scott Banks to run in untouched from 38 yards out. Backup Quarterback Jake Barnes, replacing Martin Brown for the second half would convert the two point conversion finding Ford in the corner of the endzone to take a three score lead (22-0).
Sensing blood and knowing the offence were just settling into the game, the defence would get the ball right back for the Cheetahs. On the first play after the Wilson touchdown, Joel Adjei forced a strip fumble, which he returned to the Oxford 17. Two plays later first year Running Back Hafeez Bisiriyu would take the pitch and cut behind Right Tackle Neil Prothero for a 17 yard touchdown. Again the two point was unsuccessful and Hertfordshire quickly found themselves up by 28. The defence would again keep the pressure on and forced Oxford into their ninth punt of the day. A poor punt gave the offence excellent field position, which they once again converted. Barnes would throw his first touchdown of the season to Nick Ford from 18 yards out and the Cheetahs were out in front by 34.
Oxford refused to give the Hertfordshire defence their first clean sheet of the season however as on the Saints next drive, the QB would extend a play and find his receiver on the sideline to set them up inside the 10. Two plays later Saints #22 would rumble into the endzone and they added the 2pt conversion to make the score 34-8. The Cheetahs would have the last laugh though as they continued the fourth quarter onslaught. From 39 yards out Jake Barnes would pass the ball over the top of the defence to find Max Duffin in space who ran it in the rest of the way for another six points, 40-8.
The Saints were desperate to cut the deficit again on the next drive and came out swinging, but an errant pass was intercepted by experienced defensive back Charles Kahonde and the Cheetahs were able to run out the rest of the clock to keep their undefeated start to the season intact.
Head Coach Craig Barnes was delighted with the team performance. “This was another very satisfying performance. Our defence, led by MVP Josh Kent and aided by great performances by Jack Tripp and Patryk Cwiertnia, kept Oxford under 130 total yards.
Our offence took a half to get going, but Jake Barnes at QB made a massive difference. I would also like to credit Hafeez Bisiriyu with some very exciting running, he’s a wonderful talent.
We also played really well on special teams, Conor Wilson took our second half kick off back to the two yard line, Stuart Butcher punted a fantastic kick to the three yard line, and Jai Jackson took out three players with one block, which was amazing.
We have had a number of injuries to deal with, but we will be ready for the visit of Solent. It’s the first time this season our O line will have all five starters available, I am very much looking forward to seeing them work. We are confident, anyone watching will be entertained, that’s for certain. Bring on the Thrashers!”
Defensive MVP and captain on the day Josh Kent said “I’m really happy with the defence on Sunday, we were missing a few key players but you wouldn’t have noticed on the day. Everyone stepped up and I’m looking forward to seeing where this team can go this year”.
The win sets up a huge game on Sunday 2 June against Solent Thrashers. Both teams will be looking to assert themselves as the front-runner for the division and remain undefeated on the season.
Watch the game live at St Albans Rugby Club from 3pm, after the Juniors host the Cobham Cougars, or if you are unable to make it, you can keep up to date on ScoreStream.