NORTH Bendigo yesterday spoiled Huntly’s return to the finals with a 42-point win over the Hawks in the Heathcote District Football League elimination final.
Eleven years to the day they last played in a final – also an elimination final against North Bendigo in 2001 – the Hawks were beaten 21.8 (134) to 14.8 (92) by the more experienced Bulldogs.
The difference between the two sides was the performance of Bulldogs’ full-forward Michael Spooner.
Spooner – the competition’s leading goalkicker – was unstoppable as he booted 10 goals.
Nine of Spooner’s goals came from marks, while he kicked one from a free-kick.
Spooner helped the Bulldogs get off to a flyer, already having three of his goals by the 18 minute mark of the first term.
The Bulldogs dominated the opening term as they raced to a 24-point lead at quarter-time, 6.2 to 2.2, and forced the Hawks, who were fumbly and nervous early, to play catch-up footy for the rest of the game.
Apart from 10 minutes midway through the third quarter and a surge early in the final term from Huntly, North Bendigo had control.
The Bulldogs were relentless in their tackle pressure all game and closed down Huntly’s run, while they didn’t allow the Hawks to kick consecutive goals until the third quarter.
“We’ve been at our best this year when we’ve played that pressure and contested-type footy, and we brought that today, which was really pleasing,” North Bendigo coach Damien Lock said.
“Full credit to the boys because we never gave Huntly the chance to play the style of footy they like to.”
North Bendigo led by 36 points at three quarter-time, before a rally from the Hawks early in the last term when they kicked the first three goals inside six minutes through Kyle Shepherd, Charlie Thorpe and Ryan Semmel closed the gap to 16 points.
However, the Bulldogs responded with back-to-back goals to Spooner and Daniel Sipthorp to kill off the Hawks and run away with the 42-point win to set up a first semi-final against Colbinabbin.
Match-winner Spooner kicked three goals in the first quarter, one in the second, three in the third and three in the last.
The only other player since 2000 to kick a double figure bag of goals in a HDFL final was Heathcote’s Matt Waters, who kicked 10 in the 2007 elimination final against Broadford.
Having kicked poorly in both home and away losses against Huntly, the Bulldogs’ accuracy was outstanding, particularly in the second half when they kicked 11.2.
Along with Spooner, also in the best for the Bulldogs were three players who had run-with roles – Rob Morris on Huntly coach Stacy Fiske, Ash Craig on Semmel and James Green on Matt Klein-Breteler.
The loss ends a season of massive improvement for Huntly, which has gone from the past 10 wooden spoons to finalists.
“It was one of those days where they played a lot better than us,” Fiske said.
“Unfortunately, we let them get off to that good start, and when you’re playing catch-up footy in finals, it’s very tough.
“It’s an improved season, but we’re gutted we haven’t been able to go further.”
The best for the Hawks were midfielder Adrian McErvale, ruckman Thorpe, centre half-back Michael Fitzgerald and the veteran of the team, Nathan Harris.
● Match statistics:
Centre clearances: North Bendigo 21; Huntly 18.
Inside 50s: North Bendigo 47; Huntly 46.
Stoppages: North Bendigo 21; Huntly 19.