The Cheetahs penultimate game of their regular season saw them host a Renegades team on a high from their first win of the season. The Cheetahs themselves looking to bounce back after a disappointing performance and loss to their main division rivals, Sussex Thunder, the week before. A win would mean the Hertfordshire side would set themselves up for a ‘win and in’ game against the Solent Thrashers.
The Renegades won the toss and elected to defer. The Cheetahs decided allow their Defence to set to tone for the game and so kicked off to the Renegades. Their first drive from deep in their own half, saw the Cheetahs’ Defence ready for the inside run game with no significant gains on the first 2 plays, but the Renegades did manage to covert on 3rd down with a nice pass on a 10yrd hitch. The Renegades then attempted to expand their running game with a sweep to the left side, shut down comfortably by the Cheetahs D. 3rd & Long saw another pass attempt, fortunately for the Renegades, straight through the hands of the Cheetahs Safety. The Renegades elected to punt and it was returned by the Cheetahs to well inside the Renegades Red Zone, only to be brought back to near mid-field, due to an infraction.
The Cheetahs elected to deploy their O with QB #7 Jake Barnes at the helm. The Cheetahs’ run game started strongly with an O-Line keen to get stuck in providing 1st string RB #30 Adam Adeniji with good gaps up the middle. After 2 plays converting into a 1st down, QB Barnes’ first pass was an interception over the middle, picked off by the Renegades MLB, though the Cheetahs quickly swarmed to the tackle preventing a discernible return.
The Renegades’ next drive saw some well mixed play calling but 3rd down resulted in lost yardage and the Renegades punted on 4th & 9. The punt took a Cheetahs’ bounce and settled around midfield. The Cheetahs’ returner newcomer Ricardo St. Hilaire, perceived an opportunity, but failed to gather the ball, which was then recovered by the Renegades. Another Cheetahs’ penalty placed the ball in the vicinity of the Cheetahs’ 30yrd line. The Renegades pounced on the opportunity on the next play, play action freezing the Cheetahs’ Secondary just enough for a 25yrd pass down the right side line for the first score of the game. The Renegades continued their deception lining up for a PAT, direct snap to the Kicker throwing to a quick out on the left side sealed the 2-point conversion; 0-8 Renegades with the Cheetahs quickly working out that the Renegades had come to play.
The Cheetahs started the next drive from their own 35yrd line after a solid return from RB #5 Conor Wilson. RB Adeniji started where he left off with a solid 5yrd gain on first down, with the Renegades D called for a Facemask penalty, giving the Cheetahs 1st down on the Renegades’ 44yrd line. Runs of 8yrds and 10yrds resulted in a Cheetahs 1st down on the Renegades 25yrd line. One play later a 10yrd run is negated by an Offensive holding call and the Cheetahs have to overcome a 1st & 20. Adeniji now being supported by #34 Hafeez Bisiriyu & #32 Wellington Tafireyi, the penalty yards are dispatched with a 12yrd gain on the next play. Penalties continued to hamper the Cheetahs’ drive to the Endzone however, finding themselves nearly 30yrds away from their first down marker. Switching to the passing game did not manage to achieve the requirement and the Cheetahs’ drive ended in a punt, that bounced into the Endzone for the touchback.
The Cheetahs’ D, having had a breather from a good spell of possession, stepped up for the next drive, with Defensive Captain OLB #1 Jordan Legge setting the tone on 1st down. The Renegades’ were forced to punt on 4th Down that ended with a Cheetahs’ 10yrd return to close out the 1st Qtr.
The Cheetahs’ Offense started the 2nd Qtr determined to make up for penalties that prevented the score on the previous drive. The Renegades’ D limited the Cheetahs to minimal gains on the first 2 plays, but on 3rd down Adeniji hurdled a Defensive Lineman to break to the outside. Shredding multiple tackles, Adeniji completed his run in the endzone for the Cheetahs’ first score. The Cheetahs elected to kick the PAT and WR #11 Dougie Andrews converted; 7-8 Renegades.
The Renegades quickly got some momentum back, returning the Kick Off to the Cheetahs’ 30yrd line. OLB Legge, the Cheetahs Kicker, prevented the returner going the distance. The Renegades kept up the pressure with another pass from play action, this time down the left side-line. Fortunately for the Cheetahs, whose Secondary had again let the WR get behind them, then dropped the ball immediately after his reception, quickly recovering it diving on the ground, ending the play inside the 5yrd line. 1st & goal with a Renegades’ sweep to the left, ended in a TD as the RB extended the ball into the endzone before being run out of bounds. The Renegades this time lined up for a 2Pt Conversion, but the pass is comfortably covered by a Cheetahs’ Secondary now picking up their focus. 7-14 Renegades and the Cheetahs are quickly re-orientating themselves to the fact that they are going to have to work far harder than they expected to beat a Renegades’ team that had vastly improved over the course of the season.
Some excellent Cheetahs’ blocking on the Kick Return meant the Cheetahs started their next drive off on the Renegades’ 40yrd line. A 1st down run was stopped at the Line of Scrimmage by the Renegades’ D and a 2nd Down pass resulted in a 4yrd gain. Adeniji took the field at RB to convert a 3rd & 6 into a 16yrd gain – first down Cheetahs on the Renegades’ 20yrd line. 2 more plays resulted in a 1st & goal which saw Adeniji run over a Renegades’ LB to score the Cheetahs’ 2nd TD. Andrews is unable to lift the PAT kick over the line and the Renegades held on to the lead, 13-14.
On the ensuing kickoff, Legge’s kick was fielded by the Renegades’ returner at the 15yrd line who ran hard to the left of the field intent on going up the side-line. RB Wilson dove in from his Gunner position on the right for an excellent tackle preventing another long return developing. The Renegades’ O returned to its running game with 2 and 3yrd gains on the next 2 plays. 3rd down was converted with a 20yrd pass to their left WR. However no yards after catch were achieved as CB #88 Johanne Remigio hung on for the tackle. Some well executed deception gave the Renegades a 2nd & 2, but the defence held firm for a 3rd & 1. The Renegades RB dropped the ball immediately after the handoff, which bounced back up to him for the recovery, but the split second hesitation opened the window to the swarming Cheetahs who hold the run to a 1yrd loss; 4th & 2 around midfield. The Renegades elect to go for it on the next play and some good snap count manipulation resulted in a Cheetahs offside and the Renegades have an easy 1st down. OLB Legge took it into his own hands once more blitzed into the backfield sacking the QB to shift the momentum back to the Cheetahs. 2nd & 15 despite being an obvious passing situation for the Renegades, was converted as the Cheetahs’ Secondary missed the tackle before once again being tackled by Legge.
Despite opening up the field, the Renegades continued to be shut down by the Cheetahs’ D line when attempting to run up the middle and passing attempts on the next 2 downs concluded with a Cheetahs’ interception on their 20yrd line by CB Remigio, though a dead-ball penalty pushed the Line of Scrimmage back to the 10yrd line. The Cheetahs fail to make the 1st down and Punter #8 Luke Neal kicked the ball away which was downed at midfield by the Cheetahs.
The Renegades O switched back to the passing game, but failed to complete any attempts, forcing a punt on 4th & 10 with the first half rapidly drawing to a close. The punt was fielded by Legge, who managed a short return to the Cheetahs’ 35yrd line. The Cheetahs strive for another score before half time going through the air, but fail to achieve a 1st down, with the 2nd down pass going through the hands of the Renegades’ left CB and Wilson failing to bring in a beautifully thrown corner pattern pass. The half ended 13-14, with Renegades just holding on to the lead.
The Renegades started the 2nd half from their 43yrd line. A motion Jet Sweep left was however did not fool #42 DE Jai Jackson, tackling the runner for a 5yrd loss. A concerted sweep right clawed back the lost yardage but 3rd & 10 proved to be too much to overcome and the Renegades once again punted. Quickly recovering the ball from the ground after a failed catch, Cheetahs RB Bisiriyu returned the ball up the left side-line for a first down on the Renegades 39yrd line. The Cheetahs went to the air with their short passing game for an 11yrd gain on 1st down. Some more hard running by Bisiriyu pushed the ball to the RedZone. However a false start and delay of game penalties pushed the Cheetahs back to 2nd and long. RPO executed perfectly by the Cheetahs O saw Barnes connect to RB Wellington Tafireyi on a flare right over the head of the Renegades DE. The Cheetahs OL surged forward to support and as Tafireyi cut left, the Renegades’ D was presented with an iron curtain of Cheetahs blockers putting 3 Renegade defenders into the dirt and providing Tafireyi with a clear path for the score. Andrews coverted the kick and the Cheetahs took the lead for the first time 20-14.
The Renegades started the next drive on their 44yrd line after a good return, but the Cheetahs D remained solid, limiting the Renegades RB to 1yrd on 2nd Down. 3rd & 7 resulted in an incomplete pass and the Renegades failed to establish the drive from good field position. An excellent Renegades punt saw the ball go out of bounds on the Cheetahs 12yrd line, which gave their Defence plenty to work with. QB Barnes misfired on 1st down, but threw a good pass on 3rd & 7 to stand out rookie WR #12 Nick Ford, to set up 1st down on the Cheetahs 38yrd line. The Renegades D now starting to limit the Cheetahs run game, upped the pressure on Barnes who failed to connect with WR Dougie Andrews. However, Barnes then connected with recently returned to the team WR #19 Tayo Adekunlee down the right side-line to set up 1st & 10 on the Renegades 46yrd line. A difficult snap on the next play saw Barnes wisely play safe securing the ball for a 5yrd loss. 2nd & 15 suggested an advantage to the Defence, but the Cheetahs’ passing game started to gather real momentum. Barnes connected with Wilson from slot, getting free down the right side-line to pull in the pass and keep the drive moving. The Renegades safety recovered to prevent the TD, but the Cheetahs had a 1st down close the 10yrd line. The Renegades defence rallied to hold the Cheetahs to no discernible gains on the ground for the next 2 plays. Returning to the passing game however, Barnes once again hit WR Adekunlee in the right back corner of the Endzone for the Cheetahs 4th TD of the day. Andrews converted the PAT and the Cheetahs now took full control of the game up 27-14.
The Renegades again mustered a solid return to start the next drive at their 44yrd line. The OL set the drive’s tone with good blocking resulting in a 3yrd run gain. 2nd & 7 the Renegades again go for it with a deep pass down the right side-line. This time good coverage but poor tackling saw the Renegades WR slip away to run in for the TD and put the Renegades back in the game. The 2Pt conversion was stopped by the Cheetahs timing the hit on the receiver perfectly to prevent the reception; 27-20. A low driven Kick Off was collected by Cheetahs Lineman Joel Adjei and returned convincingly to the their 49yrd line. The Cheetahs drive stalled however, and they saw the third quarter with a punt out of bounds at the Renegades’ 20yrd line.
A hard fought 4yrd gain on 1st down, failed to develop a drive for the Renegades with a 2nd down incompletion and a Cheetahs interception by SS #27 Charles Kahonde, who was tackled on the Renegades 38yrd line. The Cheetahs now in excellent field position looked to put the game away, though Barnes failed to connect with his WR down the right side-line. RB Tafireyi gained 7yrds and then delivered the drive’s next 1st down on the Renegades 22yrd line. A quick pass to WR Adekunlee on the left side made 5yrds before RB #26 Matt Lake took the handoff and burst through the Renegades would be defenders to give the Cheetahs 1st & goal on the 7yrd line. Lake was left to deliver the score hammering the ball beyond the line of scrimmage before finally breaking the plane of the endzone on third. Andrews once again converted the XP, 34-20 Cheetahs.
Legge’s ensuing kick off was left to roll into the endzone by the Renegades. The Cheetahs Defence held firm and the Renegades failed to get the 1st down. Legge received the punt and almost broke it for a big return but was eventually tackled on the Renegades 37yrd line. The Cheetahs then put in their 3rd string QB, #17 Jacques Vitry for some valued game time. Vitry misfired on 1st down, but composed himself to convert 2 short passes to WR Adekunlee for a 1st down on the Renegades 19yrd line. Despite a powerful run by RB Tafireyi gaining 7 yards on 1st down, QB Vitry failed to connect with his WRs on 2nd & 3rd down and on 4th down the Cheetahs go for the score. However, a mis-read by Vitry resulted in an unchallenged Renegades interception in the endzone. With daylight sighted, the CB brought the ball out of the endzone and with excellent blocking would look to return it all the way for a touchdown. However, up popped offensive lineman Ross Bacchus who despite the odds, chased down the Renegades returner and they would be forced to start on the Cheetahs 32 yard line.
The Cheetahs’ D once again locked out the Renegades’ inside running game, but a sweep to the left side resulted in a 1st down on the 21yrd line. The Cheetahs’ D backed up, increased the intensity preventing significant gains for another 1st down, but an offside penalty gave the Renegades another 1st down on the 11yrd line. The Renegades were pulling out all the stos to try and cause an upset as playaction and a handoff to the motioning slot who then delivered a pass into the back of the endzone for the Renegades WR to collect, gave them another score. The 2-Pt conversion pass was incomplete and the score was now 34-26 with the 2-minute warning passed.
The Renegades attempted an onside kick, but this was caught by the Cheetahs Luke Neal, who wisely went to ground to protect the possession. The Cheetahs then took a knee to run out the clock and the game finished 34-26 Cheetahs. A moderate Cheetahs performance against a committed Renegades side who played hard, proving that they have come a long way since the 2 teams met for the Cheetahs’ first game of the season.
Club Chairman Luke Clark said “Win and in. That is the scenario that we have now set ourselves up for. It will be a tremendous experience if we can make the playoffs in our first season back in division one. Solent are an exceptional side, but we will be prepared to give ourselves the best chance of progressing into the playoffs”.
The Cheetahs visit the Solent Thrashers for their final game of the regular season. The Cheetahs know that they must play at a much higher level, if they are to take down the top and undefeated team in the division and secure a playoff both for the second straight season.
Match report by Nick Moffat, senior WR, #85.