AFTER blitzing its first seven opponents by at least 51 points, Sandhurst did it the hard way against Golden Square in retaining its unbeaten Bendigo Football League record on Saturday.
In the inaugural clash for the Wirama Shield as part of the BFL's indigenous round, the Dragons trailed at each of the first three breaks, but were in front when it mattered most as they grinded out a nine-point victory.
But had they lost, the Dragons would have only had themselves to blame as their wayward kicking at goal almost came back to bite them.
Despite having 14 more scoring shots than the Bulldogs, the Dragons didn't have the game sewn up until the final two minutes in their 12.17 (89) to 13.2 (80) victory.
In what was a remarkable display of accuracy from the Bulldogs, their two behinds were both rushed - the first during the opening quarter and the second in the final term in what was their last score of the game.
It was a game played at a finals-type intensity in front of a large and vocal crowd.
Sandhurst was challenged by the Bulldogs like never before this season, with the five-time defending premiers hitting the Dragons with a barrage of pressure.
And the Bulldogs coupled their attack on the contest with their scoring efficiency.
Sandhurst had more scoring shots at each of the first three breaks, yet the Bulldogs led by eight points at quarter-time, five points at half-time and three points at three quarter-time.
Highlighting the Bulldogs' goalkicking prowess was the super goal from Corey Jones from 45m on the flank that sailed through as the three quarter-time siren sounded that gave Golden Square back the lead at the final change.
Trailing by three points at three quarter-time, the Dragons made the early running in the final term, but as has been the case all game, their radar was off.
The Dragons had the first six scoring shots of the final term for a return of 1.5, with only Lachlan Ross converting.
However, just as the game appeared to be slipping away, Golden Square halted the Dragons' momentum with back-to-back goals to Che Walls and Jacob Greenwood to lead by four points at the 19-minute mark.
But the Dragons had all the answers, kicking the final two goals through Mitch Dole - a sensational evasive effort from deep in the pocket - and Matt Thornton to win by nine points in what was a hard-working performance.
"The best part about this win was we got to the front in the last quarter, but lost the lead and then had to come again," Sandhurst coach Brett Fitzpatrick said.
"I think the guys will appreciate this win a bit more than some of the success they've already had this year, especially against an opponent like Golden Square, which is a side that just keeps coming at you."
Sandhurst ruckman Tim Martin's dominant season continued with another imposing performance.
Gun onballer Ryan Maldenis, centre half-back Thornton, who later pushed forward to kick the sealing goal, defenders Pat Jennings and Codie Price, and Brodie Montague (two goals) were also among the best.
Dole - opposed by his inter-league team-mate of last week Clayton Anderson - kicked four goals, but also hit the post twice.
The loss was only the fourth in Golden Square's past 23 games at the QEO.
"We can take a lot of confidence from an effort like that and it was good learning for our younger guys. There's still areas we need to address, but overall, out intensity, attack on the footy and how we moved the ball from half-back was an improvement from where it has been," Bulldogs coach Nick Carter said.
"There were positive signs, but you've got to get the four points."
Jon Coe continued his strong form from the inter-league game last week in defence to be the Bulldogs' best player.
Captain Jack Geary, Walls across half-back and Phil Ryan on a wing were others among the Bulldogs' leaders.
The classy Jones and Lachlan Woodward, who had an entertaining battle with Thornton, kicked three goals each.
The loss was soured by Josh Baird being stretchered off late in the third quarter with what Carter only hopes is major bruising to his knee.
• Match statistics:
Centre clearances: Sandhurst 14; Golden Square 13.
Inside 50s: Sandhurst 54; Golden Square 42.
Stoppages: Sandhurst 25; Golden Square 20.