On 8 June, the Hertfordshire Cheetahs U16s played host to the Farnham Knights and Poole Dolphins. The Berkshire Renegades were also scheduled to play, but unfortunately, had to pull out due to many players putting in last-minute GCSE revision. The day started off wet and overcast, but luckily the skies cleared for game time, where the home side took on the Dolphins first.
The visiting squad won the coin toss and elected to go on offense first. The Cheetah defense was stout – only allowing for a few positive yards before forcing a turnover on downs. The Cheetah offense took over – QB Sonny Hack moving the team efficiently down the field to a touchdown by Charlie Barnett (keyed by a devastating Hack block) in just three plays. After a failed conversion, the Dolphins took over again and had similar lack of success moving the ball to put the ball back in the hands of the Cheetah offense after four plays. A tough run by WR Ewan Macdonald for a first down allowed for an Alex Niciou 14-yard touchdown scamper up the middle. This time, the conversion was a success and the home side were up 13-0. The Dolphins took over again and this time were able to move the ball onto the Cheetah side of the pitch, but solid tackles by corner Bryn Mendes-Lewis and linebacker Jack Wiseman stopped the Dolphins before the end zone. With time running out in the half, the home squad took over and found success on a 40+ yard bomb from Hack finding a wide-open Macdonald streaking down the sideline, hitting him in stride for another score. After another successful conversion, the first half ended 20-0.
The Cheetah offense took over to start the second half, and after a few uncharacteristic penalties, the story was much the same. Four tough runs by Olly Murat, the last being a 27-yard burst up the middle for the score and a conversion by Barnett made the score 27-0. After initial good run by the young Poole running back, the Cheetah defense held firm to force another turnover on downs. Two plays later, Macdonald found pay dirt on a 31 yard end around and Niciou converted to make it 34-0. Poole took over again, but found no success, with the big play coming on a sack from defensive tackle Jack Byrne, whose pressure played havoc with the Dolphin QB all game. The Cheetahs took over again, scoring after Murat broke three tackles for a long run before a Dolphin defender was able to knock the ball loose where it bounced right into Barnett’s hands, who took the ball the last ten yards for the score. A conversion from Hack to receiver Cole Braddon made the tally 41-0. The defense again forced a turnover on downs after four plays. The Cheetah offense was back on the field with rookie QB Luca Cook taking the ball. After a few plays, the game ended, with the final score 41-0.
After a break, during which the Dolphins took on the Farnham Knights (where the Knights came away with a closely fought 24-6 victory), the Cheetahs were up against the Knights. Again, the visitors won the toss, but this time elected to go on defense first. The Cheetah offense started up right where they left off, with Hack moving the ball in six plays to the end zone on a reverse finished by receiver Taylor Bloor. The conversion fell short. The Knights took over and while they were able to drive for the first down, were not able to move from just over halfway due to continued success from Wiseman, Byrne and Mendes-Lewis (despite letting an easy interception go through his arms), with rookie CB Max Nissim leaping to bat down a deep ball that looked bound for the end zone. The Cheetah offense took over and was immediately effective – scoring on three plays on runs from Murat and a touchdown pass from Hack to Macdonald. The two-point conversion was this time successful, with Bloor finding the goal-line just before being pushed out of bounds to make it 14-0. The Farnham side took over to try and get on the board themselves, but their first snap sailed over the head of their quarterback and out of the back of the end zone for a two-point safety – also giving the ball back to the Cheetah offense. Another possession with the same outcome, the home side ruthlessly marched down the field before Niciou put the ball over the line on a weak-side sweep from ten yards out. The conversion was made good by substitute center Ivan Ginelli on a short reception. The score was now 23-0. The Farnham offense ran into a Cheetah defensive wall on their next possession; they were unable to secure the first down. With the first half coming to a close, the Cheetah’s offense looked to repeat their success from the first game but just missed when a Hack throw sailed over Barnett’s outstretched hands.
The visiting side’s offense found success in their first possession of the second half, finding the end-zone after five plays with a short pass and long run. Their two-point conversion was unsuccessful, with Wiseman batting the ball down in the end zone. The Cheetah O tried to slow the game down, grinding out short runs and short passes to move the ball into the Farnham half. During this sequence, a Farnham defender fell awkwardly on his wrist after a hard block. The visitors started with just five players and losing one put them down to just four. They bravely continued but were unable to stop Hack finding Bloor at the side of the end zone, where he made a great toe-touch reception before going out of bounds. The conversion was good, and the score was now 30-6. With only four players, the Farnham squad struggled on offense and were unable to move the ball enough for the first down. The home side rookies then got a chance on offense but didn’t find the success of their more experienced teammates and the Knights took over on downs. Again, the outnumbered visitors were unable to move the ball very far. The first play after the Cheetahs took over possession didn’t go well, with a botched snap being recovered by the Knights on the Cheetah two. The visitors were able to get the ball into the end zone quickly on a short pass and then converted the two-point conversion to make the score 30-14. The home side then took the ball and a knee to end the game.
The Cheetahs ended the day by winning their second tournament of the year and moving to 6-0 for the first time in their long history. They look forward to their next tournament on 6 July, where they travel to Solent to face the similarly undefeated Seahawks in what is sure to be a great game. They will also have rematches with the Poole Dolphins and Swindon Storm.
After the game, Head Coach Phil MacGovern had this to say: “We are very proud of how well the team played today – showing great explosiveness on offense and a shut-down defense. There are still a few things to work out – we gave up too many penalties – and the next three training sessions are key before the match with the Seahawks.”