NORTH Bendigo regained the form that won it nine of its first 11 games of the year to keep its Heathcote District Football League season alive on Sunday.
The Bulldogs prevailed by 42 points against Heathcote in the first semi-final, winning 17.14 (116) to 10.14 (74), at Huntly.
The win came on the back of six losses in a row for the Bulldogs, plus the suspension during the week of gun midfielder Daniel Sipthorp.
However, despite the odds being stacked against them, the Bulldogs rallied to set up a preliminary final against rivals Huntly next Saturday.
“We always knew we still had it in us... we just had to put it on the scoreboard,” North Bendigo coach Damien Lock said.
“We’ll go into next week with confidence after today.”
The game threatened to slip away from the Bulldogs early in the third quarter.
Heathcote fought back from a 22-point deficit during the second term to close the margin to seven points at half-time.
And when the Saints kicked the first three goals of the third term through Luke Carroll, Daniel Russell and Reece Carmichael, they led by 12 points and looked on the cusp of breaking the game open.
However, sensing their season slipping away, the Bulldogs responded in style.
The Bulldogs kicked six unanswered goals in a 14-minute burst through Ben Knight, Ryan Alford, Aarryn Craig, Damien Webb, Josh Gitsham and Ash Craig.
The third-quarter blitz – kickstarted from their midfield dominance in which they won the centre breaks 8-2 and stoppages 7-0 – set up a 28-point Bulldogs’ advantage at three quarter-time.
And the Bulldogs – who one stage had an inaccurate 5.11 on the board before finding their radar – didn’t let up in the final term, adding six goals to three to blow the margin out to 41 points.
“The boys really stood up in the third quarter when it counted, and that period is probably what won us the game,” Lock said.
In what was an even team effort, the Bulldogs’ better players were led by captain Jordan Ford in defence, Aarryn Craig (four goals), Ash Craig (two goals), whose third quarter in particular was brilliant, ruckman Josh Gitsham and key backman Cameron Lomas.
Full-forward Spooner kicked three goals.
Heathcote was best served by half-back Daniel Carroll, who battled hard for four quarters, coach Grant Ford, workhorse ruckman Daniel Russell and wingman Darcy McLean.
Carmichael kicked three goals, while Josh Illarietti and the classy Blake Coyle kicked two goals each.
“They got that run-on in that third quarter and unfortunately, we didn’t have the manpower to nullify it,” Ford said.
Such has been the recent success of Heathcote, this year’s fourth-placed finish is its lowest since 2007.
However, the Saints defied the critics to go as far as they did after being touted pre-season as one of the competition sliders.
● Match statistics:
Centre clearances: North Bendigo 15; Heathcote 15.
Inside 50s: North Bendigo 48; Heathcote 47.
Stoppages: North Bendigo 19; Heathcote 12.