The Lions ended their 17 match losing streak in Super Rugby when they held on to beat the Cheetahs 20-25 in Bloemfontein.
Going into the final quarter the Cheetahs were leading but Elton Jantjies kicked two late penalties to snatch victory and end their painful losing streak.
In a typically tense derby between the former allies, the lead changed hands on five occasions.
The home side were first to put points on the board when young flyhalf Sias Ebersohn converted after the visitors were adjudged to be off-side.
The Cheetahs defended poorly in the first half and Lions centre Doppies la Grange took full advantage by breaking the line at will.
One of La Grange's bursts was rewarded when he offloaded to fullback James Kamana who sent wing Lionel Mapoe over for the first try of the match.
First time tackling continued to be a problem for the Free State squad and they were forced to rely on Ebersohn's goal kicking to stay in the game.
In the battle up front, the Lions pack showed they were a committed unit and stood their ground at scrum time.
After Ebersohn's second penalty goal, Elton Jantjies added three more for the visitors who were then quick to erase their hard work by conceding another three easy points.
With 10 minutes left in the first stanza the Lions enjoyed an 11-9 lead which they extended to 14-11 when flank Derick Minnie's solid performance was rewarded in the far corner of the field.
As was the case with the first try, Jantjies missed the conversion, yet his team's coaching staff would have been pleased that the team's passes to the final receivers were more precise.
A period of poor handling prevented either side from building momentum shortly before the break.
Just before the interval, however, when the Cheetahs put together their first promising attacking move, skipper Andries Strauss brought his side within two points with a well deserved try.
Like Jantjies, Ebersohn did not succeed with the conversion while another opportunity to end the first half on top was wasted when fullback Riaan Viljoen missed a long range penalty attempt.
The Cheetahs snatched the lead from the Lions shortly after the break with another Ebersohn penalty, but it was short lived as Jantjies responded with three quick points for the visitors.
The strength of the Lions' defence was best illustrated when they kept the Cheetahs out, while fullback James Kamana had to leave the field after a dangerous tackle on Ebersohn.
The battle of the goal kickers continued while fans were treated to end-to-end action by the two teams, both desperate to record their first win of the season.
With less than 10 minutes left to play, Jantjies put his team back in front and later sealed it when he landed his fifth kick of the night.
The Cheetahs squandered two late chances due to poor handling by eighthman Ashley Johnson.
However, Johnson also made some very telling tackles on the night while fellow loose forward Kabamba Floors showed why he is such a valuable player when he stopped replacement back Jaco Taute on the line.
The Cheetahs would have been disappointed by the impact their replacements had on the match while the Lions again let plenty of opportunities slip through their fingers.
Lions fans endured 1 360 minutes of Super Rugby without a win and would hope for this victory to be the turning point.
Survivors from their last win, against the Highlanders in May 2009, included centre Doppies La Grange, prop JC Janse van Rensburg, flank Cobus Grobbelaar, lock Franco van der Merwe and wing Michael Killian.
Final Score Cheetahs 20 Lions 25
Tries - A Strauss
Pen - S Ebersohn 5
Tries - L Mapoe ,D. Minnie
Pen - E Jantjies 5
Cards - J Kamana (55) Yellow
Referee: Keith Brown
Assistant Ref 1:Glen Jackson
Assistant Ref 2:Cobus Wessels
TMO : Gerrie Coetzee
Cheetahs:1. C Oosthuizen , 2. R Barenes , 3. WP Nel , 4. M Muller , 5. W Steenkamp (VC) , 6. H Brussouw , 7. P van der Walt , 8. A Johnson , 9. S Pretorius , 10. S Ebersohn , 11. R Benjamin , 12. A Strauss (C) , 13. R Ebersohn , 14. P Snyman , 15. R Viljoen
16. S Badenhorst , 17. K Calldo , 18. L Floors , 19. F Uys , 20. T de Bruyn , 21. N Olivier , 22. F Juries
Lions : James Kamana, Lionel Mapoe, Waylon Murray, Doppies la Grange, Michael Killian, Elton Jantjies, Rory Kockott, Warren Whiteley, Josh Strauss, Derick Minnie, Franco van der Merwe (capt.), Wikus van Heerden, Patric Cilliers, Bandise Maku, JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: Martin Bezuidenhout, Kevin Buys, Michael Rhodes, Cobus Grobbelaar, Michael Bondesio, Burton Francis, Jaco Taute.