The Cambridgeshire Cats travelled down to The Nest, Mill Hill Rugby Club, for what was hyped as the toughest game of the season so far.
The history between our two sides was one of low scoring defensive battles decided most often by a single score, with the home side most often the victor. Both teams entered this game undefeated, but only one could emerge as such.
The Cats won the toss, elected to receive the ball, and the Hornets kicked it deep for a touchback. From the first play of the game, the Hornets lived up to the hype. The Hornets athletic and aggressive defense kept the Cats offense in check, forcing a punt on the first series without giving up a first down. The London side were able to pick up a first down through the air on their first series, but found little success on the ground. On fourth and long the Hornets brought out their kicker for a 47 yard attempt, and although it had the length the snap was bobbled and the ball sailed wide.
Another frustrating drive for the Cats saw them pick up a first down but not much more and a high punt gave the Hornets great field position for their next series. Starting from inside the Cats half the Hornets came out firing and on their second play found themselves intercepted by CB Chris King! A return of 10 yards was made even longer when a Hornets player hit Chris after he’d run out of bounds and now the Cats were within striking distance on the Hornets 30 yard line. Unperturbed by the momentum swing the Hornets defense easily shut down the Cats running game and sacked QB Mark Rivett on third down, pushing Cambridgeshire just outside field goal range.
In the last series of the quarter, the Hornets made ground up to midfield before punting. Both sides’ defense having got the measure of the opposition offense, adjustments would need to be made to break the deadlock.
On the first series of the 2nd quarter the Cats opened with QB Andre Flores under centre. Able to evade defenders and create yardage with his legs kept the offense rolling, but dropped passes led to another punt. This time the defensive aggression was too much, and the Hornets drew a roughing the kicker penalty that kept the Cats offense on the field. This would prove to be a costly mistake, as on the very next play Andre launched the ball deep down the far sideline for WR Kay Dennis to catch in stride and streak in to the endzone!
The extra point was added by Anousheh Fulford to put the score at Cats 7 – Hornets 0. The Hornets next drive ended in another punt on a three and out as the Cats defense held firm. Eager to correct their mistakes on the last drive the Hornets DBs were all over the Cats receivers and their tenacity paid off when Hornets #3 undercut a route and picked off
Mark Rivett, returning the ball to the Cats 15 yard line. With short field ahead of them the Hornets were ready to capitalise on their good fortune. Showing grit and determination as they rumbled forwards, pushing the pile for extra yardage when needed until they were inside the 5. Here the Cats’ defense stiffened and refused to allow any more ground to be given up, forcing a field goal kick attempt that sailed through the uprights, Cats 7 – Hornets 3. For the remainder of the half neither the Cats or the Hornets were able to make any headway, leaving the score line unchanged.
With the Hornets to receive the ball in the second half, and a tendency of making second half comebacks, the Cats defense would need to be switched on to keep the lead. Instead, on a long third down they drew a defensive pass interference penalty that kept the Hornets offense on the field and allowed them to continue their march down inside the Cats redzone. Once again the Cats defense pulled together and halt the Hornets progress, forcing and recovering a fumble to prevent the Hornets scoring. The momentum shift was short lived as the offense was once more unable to move the ball much beyond the original spot and again the punt unit took the field. As Chris Carter received the snap he spied a hole on the left hand side of the field and took off, breaking off a big run and picking up the first down! Seeming to find their groove the offense mustered enough to put themselves in a 4 th and 1 situation. With the Cats offense electing to go for it, the Hornets stacked the box ready to stuff the run. Instead on a play action Rivett took aim at WR Tom Sheppard running wide open across the middle of the field yet quick reactions from the Hornets LB #57 saw the ball batted to the floor and forced a turnover on downs on the Cats 35 yard line. Another great field position start saw the Hornets come out with high hopes, but found themselves unable to complete passes to the endzone and were forced to attempt a field goal. On the try the Cats defense clipped the Hornets kicker as the ball sailed wide, and as he went down the refs were forced to throw flags and breathe fresh life in to the Hornets offense. With their backs to the wall the Cats defense rallied once more and refused to allow the Hornets to reach the endzone, forcing them to attempt another field goal from inside the 5. A more hesitant block attempt gave the Hornets kicker the time needed to slot the ball between the uprights and now the score sat at Cats 7 – Hornet 6.
The score seemed to put even more fire in the Hornets defense, if that was possible, as they seemed to fly around the field making tackles in the back field and being within inches of making interceptions as the Cats only moved backwards on their next series. Then the punt didn’t clear midfield and the situation had grown grim for the Cats. Resilient once more they forced another three and out which closed out the third quarter. Only 15 minutes of football remained and there remained only a single point difference between the two sides. The Cats offense seemed to be on the brink of breaking things wide open but a sideline catch was called incomplete on review, and their momentum stalled and once again forced to punt. This was definitely a game where mistakes would be costly, and that was no truer than on the Hornets next series when a tackle from behind was ruled as an illegal horse collar tackle and the penalty yardage put the Hornets within scoring range again. True to form the Cats defense regrouped and allowed the Hornets minimal gains after the penalty. Forced to line up for another field goal try, they bobbled the snap and Jonathan Creek tackled the holder with the ball in hand and bringing the Cats offense back on the field. Still finding themselves frustrated by the Hornets, the Cats drive finished after three plays and a punt. The Hornets were still unable to get their ground game rolling, but when they hit WR #5 in stride on a slant he managed to run through two tackles on his way in to the end zone for their first TD of the game. With the successful extra point the score was now Cats 7 – Hornets 13 and less than 5 minutes left in the game.
Another heartbreaking loss looked imminent for the Cats, the offense continued to struggle and it wasn’t long before Chris Carter was once more called on to punt the ball away. Once again the reckless aggression of the Hornets defense would sting them, as they crashed in to Chris after the kick and gave the offense another chance on the field. Three plays later Mark Rivett found a receiver running open down the seam and put the ball into Tom Sheppard’s secure hands as he crossed in to the endzone, TOUCHDOWN!
Needing to kick the extra point for the lead, Anousheh Fulford stepped up but the kick was blocked leaving the score at Cats 13 – Hornets 13. With everything on the line the pressure mounted on both sides. The Hornets seemed to be feeling the pressure as they fumbled an exchange but recovered the ball themselves, had balls tipped up in to the air that landed mere feet from the outstretched arms of Cats defenders, and made no progress before punting the ball away. The Hornets defense on the other hand suffered no such miscues, they fought as ferociously as ever to keep the Cats offence from making yardage. Once again forcing the Cats in to a fourth and short situation that they felt they had to go for, and then shutting down the play forcing a turnover on downs. What had been touted as a tough defensive matchup had lived up to the hype, neither side able to make much headway and big splashy plays few and far between, although that was all about the change. Both sides knew how important this series was, if the Hornets could get within field goal range they’d likely take the victory. What occurred was something else, big DT Dan Lloyd broke through the offensive line and hit the Hornets QB just as the ball was released, popping it straight up in the air and in to the waiting arms of rookie LB Steve Dyer! The Cats had the ball in the final minute of the game and all eyes turned to the offense.
A sideline grab by Kay Dennis got them a first down and smart play had him step out of bounds as he was tackled to stop the clock and save time. Then hard running by Corneilius Walter took the ball to the six-yard line where it was clocked with seconds left. Bringing dual threat QB Andre Flores back in the Cats made it clear they were going all out for the win. Spotting a match up advantage on the outside Flores lofted the ball to the corner of the endzone as Michael Johnson slipped past the defender and reached up to secure the ball for another Cats Touchdown! With the extra point from Anousheh Fulford good the Cats had created a late lead at Cats 20 – Hornets 13. The Hornets offense would need to move quickly and decisively if they wanted to get back in to the game. A first down pass went incomplete, then on second down the QB was stripped as he scrambled but the Hornets recovered. Then on the final play of the drive their QB heaved the ball down the sideline in to the waiting hands of CB Chris King for another interception! The Cats would now win with the score at 20-13 and move to 6-0 on the year.