LODDON Valley suffered its third inter-league loss in a row on Saturday, going down to Central Highlands by 52 points at Bungaree.
What shaped as a formidable Loddon Valley side on paper was beaten 19.16 (130) to 11.12 (78) to slip to No.25 in the AFL Victoria Country rankings.
Loddon Valley led by five points at quarter-time, but Central Highlands - a massive league featuring 18 clubs - made its match-winning move in the second quarter.
Central Highlands added 7.5 to 0.4 in the second term to build a 38-point buffer at half-time.
"We played some good footy early in the game," Loddon Valley co-coach Corey Gregg said.
"Our pressure and attack on the footy was really good, but in the second quarter they moved the ball really quickly and couldn't put a foot wrong.
"We made a lot of skill errors in the second quarter and they were able to get us on the rebound and made the most of their chances.
"Our pressure lifted again in the third quarter, but by then the damage was done."
Central Highlands added 10 goals to eight after half-time.
“They were a side of midfielders. They were very fit and quick and used their body well around the contest,” Gregg said.
“We tried a few different things to mix it up like playing Rhys Ford down back for a couple of quarters.
“They had a couple of damaging forwards and he seemed to match-up well down there and we weren’t kicking many goals up our end.”
The best player for Loddon Valley was the classy Zac East, who played forward and midfield and kicked three goals from eight shots.
Glen Scholtes was also a standout for Loddon Valley, which didn't have Josh Shaw (hamstring tightness) play after half-time.
Scholtes started on a wing before playing half-forward.
Adam Parry worked hard through the midfield, while defenders Daniel Nalder and Leighton Driscoll were also among the best.
As well as East’s three goals, the only other multiple goalkicker for Loddon Valley was Paul Grayling (two).
Central Highlands had multiple avenues to goal, led by Tom Eltringham (five), Sam Turner (three), Brendan Sutcliffe (three), former Adelaide Crow William Young (two), Nathan Pring (two) and best on ground Chris O'Keefe (two).
"Once we adjusted and got on top and got the momentum, we worked really well in the second quarter," Central Highlands coach Greg Middleton said.
"It was just about adjusting to the tempo and once we did that I thought we used the footy a lot better going forward. Our decision making got better and that gave the forwards better opportunity to take those marks."
Saturday's loss follows Loddon Valley's inter-league defeats to Horsham District (30 points) and North Central (73) the previous two years.
Loddon Valley's opponent next year will be the Alberton Football League based in south Gippsland.
Alberton came from 18 points down at three quarter-time to defeat Riddell District by one point on Saturday.
Meanwhile, after co-coaching the Loddon Valley side on Saturday, Gregg and Damien Featherby will be rival coaches this Saturday when their sides Marong and Bears Lagoon-Serpentine clash.
Central Highlands 2.4 9.9 12.11 19.16 (130)
Loddon Valley 3.3 3.7 6.8 11.12 (78)
GOALS – Central Highlands: T. Eltringham 5, B. Sutcliffe, S. Turner 3, W. Young, C. O’Keefe, N. Pring 2, T. Ross, D. O’Halloran 1. Loddon Valley: Z. East 3, P. Grayling 2, A. Parry, Z. Broadbent, D. Bateman, R. Ford, D. Clutton, T. Strachan 1.
BEST – Central Highlands: C. O’Keefe, T. Ross, S. Turner, N. Pring, J. Rushton, W. Young. Loddon Valley: Z. East, G. Scholtes, A. Parry, D. Nalder, L. Driscoll, C. Gregg.