On a blistering Sunday afternoon in St Albans, the Hertfordshire Cheetahs Juniors continued their impressive start to 2019 with a 53-0 victory over the visiting Cobham Cougars. The victory keeps the young Cheetahs undefeated on the season, with a tasty match-up away at the Kent Exiles on the cards in a little under three weeks.
The Cheetahs lost the toss and Cobham deferred, giving the Cheetahs the football at their own 35 after a short return by Marcin Kurek (DL). Liam MacGovern (QB) rode the running of Luke McCorkindale Brown (HB) and Kamil Durak (FB) for a first down, but the Cheetahs offense fizzled out just inside the opposition half, with Jordan Cottom (HB) wrapped-up in the backfield on fourth down. The Cheetahs defense took to the field, looking quite different from the unit that shut out the Thames Valley Tigers five weeks earlier. With A Level exams and injuries reeking havoc, the Cheetahs defense featured five rookies looking to make their mark on the top tier of Junior football. In a theme that would emerge throughout the afternoon, Filip Boguki (LB) tackled the Cobham HB for loss on the Cougars’ first offensive snap. In fact, Bogucki would proceed to make both tackles on second and third down, limiting the Cougars to modest completions. On fourth down the Cougars’ Punter was swamped by the Cheetahs’ rush, with Tom Goodchild (S) blocking the punt, before scrambling back to down the Punter inside his own 15 yard line.
With a short field, the offense looked to take full advantage, but Seth Cyster-White’s (C) snap looped over MacGovern, with McCorkindale Brown recovering the ball for a loss of 15. A jump by the Cougars gave the Cheetahs 5 yards back, and after MacGovern missed Jack Stodel (WR) on a screen, OC Rich Moult doubled-down, with MacGovern hitting Stodel for a TD on the same play at the second attempt. James Whiteford (K) sunk the extra point, 7-0 Cheetahs. A huge KO from Stodel left the Cougars with a long way to go, and they had even further to go after a Kurek TFL was followed by two incompletions. On fourth down the Cougars’ Punter was again rushed, with Rob Simpson (DL) and Jack Preece (LB) combining on the sack. Turnover on downs, with a short field for the Cheetahs O once more. MacGovern went to the air on first down, hitting Josh Miler-Hall (WR), who made an excellent catch and drove for good YAC. Back to smash-mouth football on second down, with Durak thundering over for the Cheetah’s second score of the day. Miller-Hall was money on the XP, 14-0 Cheetahs.
Stodel‘s KO didn’t quite reach the endzone this time, but the Cougars’ returner may have wished it had, after a thunderous hit by Jay Stewart-Sinclair (WR). The Cheetahs D were slow to react to Trips on first down, and Cobham completed a decent pass over the middle for their first first-down of the day. However, two plays later, under pressure from Bogucki, the Cougars’ QB panicked, lofting his ball into the arms of Aaron Connell (CB). Connell returned the ball to the 25, the offense blessed, once again with great field position. A great run by Cottom set the Cheetahs up inside the ten, as the field flipped for the end of Q1. It looked like the Cheetahs had scored on the first play of Q2, but Stewart-Sinclair‘s TD was called back for offensive PI. Keeping calm, MacGovern hit Miller-Hall to recover most of the yardage on the very next play. McGovern then tucked and ran out of bounds on second, before popping the ball to Stewart-Sinclair for a TD on third. Whiteford made it 3/3 for the Cheetahs’ Kickers, 21-0 to the home side.
With the Cheetahs kicking into the wind, Cobham began with their best field position of the day so far. They began to move the ball, recovering their own catch and fumble for a big gain, before catching two balls tipped by Kurek at the line of scrimmage. However, a botched snap handed a sack to Simpson, and the Cougars began to move backwards. Ethan Dean (LB) came up with a TFL on second, before Preece levelled a big hit on the Cougars’ receiver on third. Tom MacIntyre (S) stopped Cobham short of the sticks on fourth down, handing the ball back to the Cheetahs offense. Miller-Hall missed a contested catch on first, but Stewart-Sinclair snagged the following play for a first down. It was to be a costly completion for Stewart-Sinclair, however, who was clobbered late by a Cobham DL, suffering a suspected concussion. Reeling from the hit, the lack of flag, and the loss of Stewart-Sinclair, MacGovern‘s next ball hit the hands of Ben Wilson (WR) and was picked-off by the Cobham D. However, McCorkindale Brown laid a huge hit on the defender, making sure yards after the INT were limited. Cobham’s O moved forwards and backwards, with short completions and penalties, before Goodchild laid a huge hit for a TFL on second down. Simpson followed up a third down incompletion with another sack, turning the ball over on downs.
A holding call negated a great gain from Stodel on first down, before 2018 MVP Ashley Gatulah (HB), playing in his first game of the season, ran the ball up the middle for 15 yards behind the blocking of Ben Smythe (C) and Ellis Jennings (RT). The next snap, Gatulah followed Jennings again for the first down. After an ill-advised MacGovern loop to the endzone, MacGovern hit Miller-Hall over the middle for a TD. Miller-Hall converted his own TD, for 28-0 Cheetahs. On the ensuing KO, a great tackle from Cottom kept Cobham deep in their own half, before Tom Wyatt (LB) and Simpson combined for a sack. After the Cougars stepped out of bounds on third, the refs called time on the first half.
Kicking-off to start the third, Stodel served up a (now routine) touchback, giving the Cougars the length of the field to drive. Kurek and Simpson shared another sack, before Goodchild and Preece somehow conspired to drop a certain pick two plays later. On fourth, the Cougars Punter did manage to get his punt off, and Cheetahs took over the ball just shy of half way. Some hard running by Durak and McCorkindale Brown kept the offense moving, but a good stand by Cobham’s D saw the Cheetahs turned over on downs, as the offense pushed for the squad’s first ever 50-burger. With time running out, the Cheetahs needed the ball back, and fast, if they were to feast on the much coveted burger. Kurek continued his afternoon as a wrecking-ball, racking up another sack on the Cougars first down. On second down, Kurek again bullied his man, rushing the Cougars QB into his second pick of the day, with Bogucki the grateful recipient. McGovern hit debutant Thaqib Ahmed (WR) for a quick gain, before a big run by McCorkindale Brown was stopped shy of the endzone after Wilson whiffed on his block. However, McCorkindale Brown‘s determined running got him down to the three, where Durak then punched the ball into the endzone for his second score of the day. Whiteford‘s XP was, for the first time all day, no good. 34-0 Cheetahs.
Another deep KO from Stodel, and the Cougars had the length of the field to go. Preece let a certain interception through his hands on second down, before a facemask call saved his blushes and pushed the Cougars down the field. Bogucki, however, had other ideas and snared his second pick of the day on the very next play – giving the Cheetahs the ball back once more. Louis Groom (QB), in for MacGovern, hit Miller-Hall for a short gainer, but one incompletion, a penalty and a short run later, the Cheetahs were staring at fourth and a mile. Up stepped Gatulah, with a brutal outside run away from the on-rushing defense, ending with a stiff arm on a CB and the levelling of the Cougars’ Safety, which was met with a great deal of adulation on the sideline. Riding the momentum, Cottom burst wide and buried the following rush in the endzone, 40-0 Cheetahs. Leading the charge? Wilson, making up for his earlier error by dominating his Corner out of Cottom‘s running lane, a huge play by the veteran WR. The two point conversion was no good.
The Cougars got the ball back once more, only for their QB to throw the ball directly to Preece, who made it third time lucky and picked the ball off in centre-field. On the ensuing drive Cyster-White‘s snap sailed over the head of Groom, only to be picked up by McCorkindale Brown in the backfield, who burst the entire field open with a 55 yard TD run from nothing. 46-0 Cheetahs, with the two-point conversion just short. With the burger in sight, the Cheetahs then tried every technique in the book to not achieve it. First Groom‘s pass found the Cougars defenders in triple coverage (though he almost made up for mistake with a huge tackle to prevent the pick becoming six for Cobham). After another turnover on downs, featuring a sack by Kurek, the Cheetahs looked to have scored when McCorkindale Brown burst to the endzone for a score, only for the play to be called back for a hold by Declan Comerford (WR). The Cheetahs couldn’t punch it in, and the Cougars got the ball back once again. However, with all three timeouts remaining, HC Alex Halms stopped the clock inside two minutes, trusting his defense to make the stop the offense needed. They did, and on the final play from scrimmage McCorkindale Brown took the ball 35 yards to the endzone, behind a jubilant Callum Cocks (LT). MacIntyre trotted on to kick his first ever XP, and the Cheetahs finished the game 53-0 victors: back to back shutouts and with the programme’s first ever 50 burger on the scoreboard.
Post-game, HC Alex Halms was, almost, pleased: “We played well today. Cobham are a physical football team who have had a lot of success in the U17 game. They were hammered by injuries and absentees, and credit to them for fighting to the end. However, my main focus has to be on our players, many of whom were out of position, or a little out of practice. We didn’t do everything right – the offense still started both halves very poorly, and our Special Teams tailed off as the scoreline improved in our favour. We need to be ruthless, because against the best teams in the country, a moment is all they need to kill you off. But that consistency comes with practice and experience, and I keep forgetting just how young this squad is. Kent will be a huge test, and will go a long way to defining how this Cheetahs team is remembered. It’s back to training, back to mid-week film sessions, refocussing our attention on the Kent scout and getting ourselves healthy. I’m satisfied with our progress, but there is so much more to come and a lot more work to be done.“
Cheetahs MVPs were: Offense McCorkindale Brown (Offense, HB), Bogucki (LB, Defense) and MacIntyre (Gunner/ K, Special Teams).
- Cottom (HB): 1 Rushing TD (6 pts),
- McCorkindale Brown (HB): 2 Rushing TDs (12 pts),
- Durek (HB): 2 Rushing TDs (12pts),
- MacGovern (QB)/ Stewart-Sinclair (WR): 1 Passing/ Receiving TD (6 pts),
- MacGovern (QB)/ Miller-Hall (WR): 1 Passing/ Receiving TD (6 pts),
- MacGovern (QB)/ Stodel (WR): 1 Passing/ Receiving TD (6 pts).
Defense/ Special Teams
- Preece (LB): INT, 0.5 Sacks
- Bogucki: Sacks 2, INTs 2, TFL 2,
- Kurek: Sacks 4.5, TFLs 2,
- Durek: TFLs 1,
- Simpson: Sacks 3.5, TFL 2,
- Connell: INT,
- Goodchild: TFL 2, Sack 1,
- Dean: TFL
- Wyatt: Sack 0.5,