With 10 minutes of the game left the scores were locked at 21-21.
Twice in the succeeding minutes, the Crusaders got over the line when halfback Andrew Ellis, who had another lively game, and first five-eighths, who was at second five-eighths after Dan Carter came out at half-time, Tom Taylor crossed the goal-line but neither were able to ground the ball to the satisfaction of referee Keith Brown.
But finally, in the 75th minute the control under pressure on attack wore down the Cheetahs defences for fullback Israel Dagg to score the winner.
The Cheetahs were superb in their ability to come back by sheer movement of the ball.
Teenaged Cheetahs first five-eighths Johan Goosen belied his age with a cool, composed performance, not only with his impressive goal-kicking but also in support play and ball distribution. Hooker Adriaan Strauss was a constant presence in running the ball in close quarter play while flanker Heinrich Brussow battled all night in the loose.
It took a piece of dazzling work in the 35th minute to finally break the barriers and it came when second five-eighths Ryan Crotty ran back inside on a dummy run which allowed Taylor to get ball inside to wing Zac Guildford. He lobbed a pass over a defender to centre Robbie Fruean. He linked quickly with Dagg who put right wing Sean Maitland down the sideline for the try.
The ground is being used for the first time as the home venue for the Crusaders after the loss of AMI Stadium to the 2011 earthquake.
It was Taylor to land penalty goals in the sixth and 30th minutes with one missed shot while Goosen landed his only shot in the 15th minute.
The Cheetahs scrum was under pressure throughout however and more than once the Crusaders were able to get themselves out of dangerous situations as a result of their scrum power. But from the 55 minute mark uncontested scrums were required.
Heinrich Brussow packed at No.8 for much of the half, with No.8 Philip van der Walt packing on the side of the scrum. The tactic looked to contribute nothing to the continuity of the Cheetahs scrum.
After the break Carter returned to action for the first time since the groin injury which forced him out of the World Cup. His effect was instant as the 42nd minute proved when he moved the ball in front of Fruean and running onto it, he was untroubled on the run to the line.
But the Cheetahs demonstrated why they have the reputation as the most attacking team in South Africa three minutes later.
Wing Cameron Jacobs robbed lock Luke Romano of the ball, and the ball was freed to the Cheetahs backs. Centre Robert Ebersohn raced ahead, to link with Goosen. He found wing Willie le Roux, who passed to second five-eighths Andries Strauss who in turn found le Roux and he when was caught there was Goosen in support. While he missed the conversion, he landed a penalty goal four minutes later.
Taylor extended the lead to 10 points with a 52nd minute penalty goal.
However, the Cheetahs grew in confidence heading into the final quarter as uncontested scrums were called from the 55th minute. The introduction of bullocking loosie Ashley Johnson gave his side momentum which troubled the home defences.
The Cheetahs reward came when the Crusaders failed to gather a downfield kick. Fullback Hennie Daniller made the most of the chance to race down the flank. The ball was moved back across field where replacement three-quarter Rayno Benjamin got through the defence to feed centre Robert Ebersohn over for the try.
When the Crusaders were penalised for off-side at a lineout on their 10m line, Goosen stepped up for the 40m attempt which he landed in the 70th minute to level the scores.
Crusaders 28 (Sean Maitland, Robbie Fruean, Israel Dagg tries; Tom Taylor 2 con, 3 pen) Cheetahs 21 (Johan Goosen try, con, 3 pen; Robert Ebersohn try ). HT: 11-3