THE trend of tight North Central league grand finals continued on Saturday as Wycheproof-Narraport ran over the top of Birchip-Watchem in the final quarter to win the 2017 premiership.
The Demons rallied from a 13-point deficit at three-quarter-time, kicking the last four goals of the game to triumph by 12 points, 9.9 (63) to 7.9 (51).
Played at Boort in front of a crowd that paid a gate of $38,165, it was the seventh NCFL grand final in a row decided by 12 points or less.
And to go back a little further, nine of the past 10 grand finals dating back to 2008 have been margins of 15 points or less, with the only blowout through that time the 44 points the Demons beat Boort by in 2010.
The 2010 win had been the Demons’ last flag before Saturday’s success, which helped ease the disappointment of last year’s grand final loss to Charlton.
The Demons also had the two winners of the best-on-ground medals, which both went to a pair of half-back flankers.
Premiership captain Boe Bish won the Des Darcy Medal, while 36-year-old Corey Jones claimed the AFL Victoria Country Medal.
Playing in their first grand final since 2002 and chasing their first premiership since 2001, the Bulls entered the last quarter holding a 13-point lead, 7.7 to 5.6.
However, the Demons had the advantage of the scoring end in the final term.
Of the 12 goals that had been kicked to three-quarter-time, nine had been scored to the hockey field end that the Demons were coming home too.
And the trend continued as the Demons – with the added drive of not letting another flag opportunity slip for the second year in a row – kicked the only four goals of the final quarter to turn their 13-point deficit into a 12-point win.
Followng an early miss to coach Julian Bull, the first of their final-term goals came when Conner Burge kicked on the run from 35m after receiving a handball from team-mate Ricky Allan.
And when forward Matt Riordan converted a long-range set-shot scores were locked together at 7.7 apiece at the nine-minute mark.
The Bulls regained the lead shortly after when Riley Hogan’s tough kick from the boundary hit the post to put Birchip-Watchem ahead by one point.
A behind to the Demons again levelled the scores at the 13-minute mark before Wycheproof-Narraport star Jones booted the most crucial of his 71 goals for the year.
After taking a mark Jones banged home a 50m set-shot to give the Demons a six-point advantage as the clock ticked over 15 minutes.
What would prove to be the sealer for the Demons came four minutes later when Jones passed to Ricky Allan, who marked just outside the 50m arc.
However, as Allan was preparing to take his shot a 50m penalty was paid against the Bulls’ Nathan Gordon for encroaching into his protected space.
What had been a difficult set-shot became a gimme for Allan, who kicked his third goal and the Demons were premiership-bound.
As well as the Demons’ last goal coming courtesy of a 50m penalty, earlier they were gifted their first to Boe Bish from a 100m penalty that took him from the wing to the goalline.
With a final margin of 12 points, handing two goals to the Demons on a platter proved mighty costly for the Bulls.
In a game that lasted 112 minutes, the Demons only led for 19 after the Bulls made them play catch-up footy by kicking the opening three goals of the match inside the first 20 minutes.
But the Bulls only added four more goals for the rest of the game.
Just as he was in the second semi-final a fortnight earlier, Bulls’ star Gordon was electric in the first term.
Gordon kicked two of the Bulls’ three goals in the opening quarter and both were brilliantly-judged set-shots from outside 50.
The Demons didn’t register their first score until the 22-minute mark through the 100m penalty goal to Bish as they faced a 16-point deficit at the first change, 3.4 to 1.0.
Given the amount of play the Bulls had in the first quarter, shown by seven scoring shots to one, it certainly could have been much worse for the Demons than going into their huddle 16 points in arrears.
By half-time Wycheproof-Narraport had reduced the deficit back to four points, with one of the stars of the second term Demons’ on-baller Ricky Allan, who slotted two sensational goals from both the left and right side flanks.
The Demons hit the front for the first time in the game three minutes into the third term when Spencer Allan marked a kick from a stoppage and goaled to put his side two points up.
However, their lead was short-lived as the Bulls kicked the last three goals of the quarter through Charlie Hallam from deep in the pocket, Lachlan Foott and Gordon’s third – another from outside 50m – to take the advantage into the final term.
One of the highlights of the game was the clash between two of the league’s top ruckmen in the Demons’ Chris Howgate and the Bulls’ Lochlan Sirett, with both named among their team’s best players.
The Demons’ Ricky Allan (three), who challenged strongly for one of the medals, and the Bulls’ Gordon (three), who figured among his team’s better players, were the game’s leading goalkickers.
1.0, 4.3, 5.6, 9.9 (63)
3.4, 4.7, 7.7, 7.9 (51).
Goals – Wycheproof-Narraport: R. Allan 3, M. Riordan, C. Jones, S. Allan, C. Burge, J. Coatsworth, B. Bish. Birchip-Watchem: N. Gordon 3, S. Paulke 2, L. Foott, C. Hallam.
Best – Wycheproof-Narraport: B. Bish, C. Jones, R. Allan, C. Burge, C. Howgate, S. Allan. Birchip-Watchem: L. Sirett, J. Noonan, N. Gordon, R. Hogan, M. Monteith, J. Reid.