FOR the first time this season, Marong has beaten a fellow top-five side in the Loddon Valley Football League after downing Newbridge by 16 points on Saturday.
It was a pivotal game for the Panthers to stand up in after they had lost their previous two games to Bridgewater and Bears Lagoon-Serpentine, while they were also defeated by Pyramid Hill earlier in the season.
But on the back of a dominant third quarter, the Panthers came from behind at half-time to win 15.10 (100) to 12.12 (84) at Marong Links Oval.
"We've been getting told by our supporters that we haven't been far away, but today is the day we needed to start beating these top sides," Marong coach Corey Gregg said.
"As a midfield group we spoke about our work-rate, which is where we got found out last week against Bridgewater.
"Our work-rate wasn't where it needed to be to compete against a top side, so a real focus today was working hard to get numbers to stoppages and pushing back to help the defenders and to the boys credit, they responded.
"Today was the hardest we've worked all season."
The Panthers were under pressure at half-time when they trailed by 13 points.
However, the Panthers unleashed their highest scoring quarter of the season in the third term when they piled on 8.1 to 2.1 to turn the deficit into a 23-point advantage at the last change.
"The game was fairly contested in the first half, but it opened up in the third quarter," Gregg said.
"Newbridge dropped off a bit with their intensity and we were able to step it up and own the footy and get it out into space, which is when we play our best footy.
"It was a really good response from the boys after they got a bit of a rev-up at half-time."
Recruit Craig Morris (two goals) continued his outstanding season in the midfield to be Marong's best player.
Ruckman Chris Morgan, Joshua Cooper, Kyle Manley and Richard Tibbett were also among the better players for the Panthers.
The defeat was Newbridge's second of the season, and was further soured by an ankle injury to Lachlan Ford late in the game.
"We were very poor in the second half. We butchered the footy and gave it back to them too many times," Newbridge coach Matt Dillon said.
"They are a quick side and moved the ball well. We were a bit flat today, but take nothing away from Marong, their pressure was too good."
Dylan Burt, Joshua White, Jordan Pawsey and Jordan Gilboy led the better players for the Maroons.
• Mitiamo won its second game in a row, defeating YCW by 13 points at home.
The game was evenly-poised at three quarter-time when the Superoos led by five points.
But the Superoos continued their recent strong finishes to games by kicking 3.5 to 2.3 in the final quarter to win 11.15 (81) to 9.14 (68).
"It was a tough game of footy in tricky conditions," Mitiamo coach Denis Grinton said.
"We used the ball better at times, were able to run the game out well and I was really happy with the pressure we put on, so it was a good effort by the boys."
Midfield recruit Matthew Perri continues to impress for Mitiamo and was again the Superoos' best, along with defender Spike Ingley and onballers Tom Grant and Aaron McKean (two goals).
Joel Pianto kicked three goals for the Superoos in what was a game where less than a kick separated the two sides at the first three breaks.
Consistent defender Leighton Driscoll led the way for the Eagles, who had Matthew Waterson (five) and Daine Lowry (three) combine for eight of their nine goals.
"This was a game we needed to win to keep in touch with the top five," YCW coach Pat Jess said.
"We were beaten in contested footy today. Mitiamo outplayed us in getting to the ball first and winning the hard ball.
"And when we did have the ball, our use just wasn't up to scratch."
• Bridgewater completed another demolition, this time thumping Calivil United by 142 points at Calivil.
The Mean Machine dished out a 26.21 (177) to 5.5 (35) hiding in their biggest win of the season so far.
The rout was led by Zeb Broadbent, who outscored the Demons off his own boot, booting seven goals.
Broadbent was among 13 goalkickers for the Mean Machine, who kicked 16 of their 26 goals after half-time.
Reigning Harding medallist Adam Parry (two goals), Bendigo Gold-listed Alexander Pollock, Marc Lindsay and Josh McLeod were others among the best for the Mean Machine.
Calivil United coach Andrew Freemantle was pleased with the endeavour of his side in the first half when the Demons kicked four of their five goals.
"We were able to make it some sort of a contest in the first half and we competed really well," Freemantle said.
"But after half-time we just ran out of puff. Bridgewater is a very clean side with gun players across every line and really play as a team."
In what was the Demons' second loss by more than 100 points in their past four games, Jay McDonald (two goals), Jonas Sommerville and Jake Lawry led their better players.
• Pyramid Hill ended its two-game losing streak, comfortably beating Inglewood by 104 points.
The Bulldogs won 24.16 (160) to 9.2 (56) at Mitchell Park.
"We're still far from playing our best footy, but it was good today to get the process a little closer to where we want it," Bulldogs coach Paul Grayling said.
"We had a lot of young kids in the side who played well, so that was really pleasing."
Among the Bulldogs' youngsters was Nathan Fitzpatrick, who kicked two goals in his senior debut.
Grayling bounced back from two quiet weeks to boot eight goals, while mid-season recruit Troy Parker added five goals.
Parker was among the Bulldogs' best, along with veteran midfielder Linc Withers, key tall Leigh Davies and Bryden Morison.
The loss means Inglewood has reached the halfway mark of the season winless for the third time in the past four years.
Jye Bryan kicked four of Inglewood's nine goals.
The Blues' two most consistent players in Joshua Essex and Jayden Sheean again played well, along with David Rose and Jake McInerney.
• Meanwhile, at the halfway mark of the season, Bridgewater is two games clear at the top of the ladder.
Just one game then separates Newbridge, Pyramid Hill, Bears Lagoon-Serpentine and Marong from second to fifth.
Those five sides already appear near-certainties to be this year's finalists with there then a three-game gap from the top five to the rest of the competition.