NORTH Bendigo fought its way back from a 15-point three quarter-time deficit to defeat Lockington-Bamawm United in a thriller on Saturday and secure the Heathcote District Football League minor premiership.
The Bulldogs inflicted just the third home loss on the Cats in their past 39 games at Norlec Oval with the one-point victory, 10.9 (69) to 9.14 (68).
Having gone into the keenly-anticipated clash of the top two teams on the back of 11 wins in a row, the Bulldogs' streak looked in danger of being broken when the Cats led 9.11 to 7.8 at three quarter-time.
However, the Bulldogs dug deep in the final quarter, kicking 3.1 to 0.3 to scrape past the Cats by the barest of margins, with a behind to Jeremy Mills late after his shot at goal was touched on the line breaking what had been a 68-apiece deadlock.
"We knew going up there it was going to be a very tough game and we spoke before the match that it may come down to the 80th minute or it may come down to the 119th minute, which it did," North Bendigo co-coach Rob Bennett said.
"We just had to keep our focus for the entire game, which we did. We didn't play our best footy at times, but you will take a one-point win up there any time."
The Cats led by two points at half-time and grabbed the momentum during the third term when they kicked four goals to two.
"We were flat in the third quarter, so we asked the boys for a really big effort in the last," Bennett said.
"We held them goalless in the last quarter and were able to just keep forcing the ball forward.
"I thought we controlled the game for the last 15 minutes, but couldn't put them away, which is credit to them, until we were finally able to get that point from Millsy late to get over the line."
The win moved the Bulldogs two games, plus 36 per cent, clear at the top of the ladder with two rounds remaining.
The best in the victory for the Bulldogs were forward Mills (two goals), Tyson Findlay (two goals), who played another strong game, Shaun Kellow, Jesse Evans and Ryan Alford, who had the job on Bendigo Gold-listed Lachie Collins.
Bennett also lauded the efforts of Aarryn Craig and Darcy Richards late in the game when the result was in the balance.
The one-point loss was the Cats' fourth match in their past six games decided by six points or less.
"The boys played particularly well in that third quarter and I thought we started to get on top of them there, but good sides like North find a way to win and they did that," Cats coach Adrian Dohnt said.
"The guys are really gutted with the result, which shows to me it still really means something to them. They know we're not far away and on the right track, but we couldn't quite get over the line today.
"North has got some big bodies in their side and at the right times they were able to take important contested marks."
Meanwhile, the Cats' loss was further soured by a serious hamstring injury to star recruit Jonathan Hay, with Dohnt conceding "he'd be surprised" if the 34-year-old played again this season.
"We won't know more for another week or so, but at this stage it's not looking good," Dohnt said.
Better players for the Cats on Saturday included Trent Bacon (two goals), Chris Hudson, Kahl Oliver and Matt Bongiovanni.
• In the other marquee game of the round, Leitchville-Gunbower came from 14 points down at three quarter-time to defeat Mount Pleasant by five points.
The Bombers took the Blues' position in the top three with the 10.17 (77) to 10.12 (72) win at Gunbower.
The Bombers kicked 3.8 to 1.1 in the final term to run over the top of the Blues, who for the second week in a row were beaten by a kick.
"We treated the game a bit like a final because if we had been beaten, it would have made it really tough to finish top three," Bombers coach Marty Shadbolt said.
"We were fairly ordinary in the first half coming off the bye and it took us a while to get going.
"We nearly shot ourselves in the foot with some of our missed chances, but we finished well and were able to get over the line."
Joel Donehue, Bart Walsh, Joel Helman and Jake Truefeldt played well for the Bombers, who had Ryan Hocking kick three goals, including the one to put them in front late.
Nathan Whipp, Matthew Filo, who has had a consistent past month, Blair Wild and Koe Ngawati were the pick of the Mount Pleasant players. Matt Gretgrix and Kain Robins kicked three goals each.
“We were in a good position for most of the game, but poor decisions hurt us at the end of the day,” Blues coach Derrick Filo said.
“To Leitchville’s credit, they just kept working all game and were able to get the result.”
The Blues suffered injuries to Mitch Collins (ankle) and Nick Edwards (hamstring).
• White Hills moved a game clear inside the top five, defeating Heathcote by 91 points - 21.13 (139) to 6.12 (48) - at Prendergast Oval.
The Demons held the Saints to just one goal after half-time as they completed a set of home and away wins against Heathcote for the first time since 2005.
“It was pleasing to bounce back after last week (loss to Colbinabbin) and we started to get back into some really good habits,” Demons coach Shaun Makepeace said.
“It was a good four-quarter effort by the boys. Our third quarter was our best when we were able to kick seven goals and really break it open.”
Key forward Ricky Symes kicked six goals for the Demons before being rested in the last quarter.
Centre half-forward Jake Ward (two goals), Jake Heavyside through the midfield and Rohan Bowles also kept the Demons in control of the contest, while Alex Galea and Matt Sawyer added three goals each.
In what was another tough day for the Saints, Mitchell McLean, Marc Millard, and the consistent duo of Daniel Russell and Daniel Carroll battled hard.
• Huntly defeated Elmore by 64 points to make it back-to-back victories.
The Hawks extended their advantage in every quarter to win 17.18 (120) to 8.8 (56).
“It has been good for the playing group to get a couple of wins in a row, especially when we had been in winning positions and highly competitive in four of our past six losses,” Hawks coach Stacy Fiske said.
“To the boys’ credit, they have continued to work hard on the track and we have got back to meeting the standards in which we measure ourselves, which has been pleasing.
“We still haven’t played our best footy yet this season, but these next two weeks give us the opportunity to play to our potential and get something out of what has been a frustrating past few months.”
Harry Whittle (three goals), Adrian McErvale, Kyle Shepherd and Fiske were among the standouts in the Hawks’ fifth win of the year. Forward Jack Threlfall kicked four goals.
Jeff McMurtrie, Daniel Lavey, Jack Hayes and Ben Henderson were the better players for Elmore.
Luke Clark kicked three of Elmore’s eight goals.