NAVARRE fought back from a ten-point deficit at the last change on Saturday to roll over the top of Lexton and claim a Maryborough Castlemaine District Football League grand final berth.
In front of a big Princes Park preliminary final crowd, the Grasshoppers slammed home five goals to the Tigers’ two in a big final quarter.
Pivotal to Navarre’s revival was the move of key defender Luke Hendy to centre half-forward at the start of the last term.
He grabbed two big pack marks inside three minutes and calmly drilled two vital majors in Navarre’s 13.9 (87) to 12.8 (80) victory.
The Tigers led a tightly contested final by 10 points at the long break.
Dual AFL premiership ruckman Darren Jolly controlled the centre square and boundary tapouts, forwards Lachlan Murray and Mathew Brown contributed four of Lexton’s seven majors, while defender Michael Jennings shut down Navarre’s attacking options through the corridor.
Coach Daniel Parkin and swingman Bryce Tickner tried to spark Navarre and with Ashley Driscoll, Tickner himself and Nick Murphy steering home goals, the Grasshoppers just stayed in touch.
Navarre did come alive in the third term. The lead changed hands four times as the defending premiers threw out a real challenge to the Tigers.
When skipper Louis Hannett and Ashley Driscoll drilled early third quarter goals it looked as though Navarre would steamroll Lexton.
But Jolly combined with Riley Brown to find Murray. The key Tiger forward nailed his fourth goal for the day and Lexton regained the lead.
After Hannett had marked a poor clearing kick and hammered home his second goal for Navarre, pacy Tiger wingman Nick Spolding passed accurately to Brown and the full-forward’s major handed Lexton the lead back again.
The breeze, favouring the town end, had increased in strength by mid-afternoon and Brown had to kick against it to nurse home his third goal at the scoreboard end.
But that third major to Brown handed Lexton a 10.5 to 8.7 three-quarter time lead.
Enter Luke Hendy as the final quarter unfolded. His second goal handed the Hoppers a two-point lead and when Parkin was freed for a push-out in a marking contest his major extended Navarre’s lead to eight points.
Jolly had a chance to reduce the leeway for Lexton. Then, after marking strongly on the grandstand side half-forward line he played on and sprayed his kick.
Justin White kept the Tigers in the game. His boundary line shot at the town end was a beauty and suddenly at the 24-minute mark there was just a kick in it: 13.8 to 12.8. From a free at centre half-forward Parkin drilled a point and time had run out for the Tigers.
Parkin said later that the decision to move Hendy into attack hadn’t been his, but a brainstorm from the bench.
“It turned out to be a beauty because we knew we had to roll the dice if we were to win the game.”
The Navarre coach said it was always good to have a tough preliminary final leading into a grand final.
“Especially when you’re undefeated as we are you need to fine tune your preparation and get everything right,” he said.
Lexton coach Shane Fisher said even though his club had made the grand final last season they’d lost by a huge margin.
“So to lose by seven points today, I think the belief is still there among our players. We just had some fundamental errors in those last 15 minutes today – either in decisions made or errors by foot,” he said.
• Match statistics – centre clearances: Navarre 14, Lexton 12. Inside 50s: Navarre 49, Lexton 34. Marks inside 50: Navarre 8, Lexton 8.