READ MORE - Weekend of high football drama across the region
NORTH Bendigo emerged victorious by the barest of margins in one of the Heathcote District league's greatest games of modern times against Lockington-Bamawm United on Saturday.
The 1st v 2nd clash at Atkins Street promised plenty and more than delivered in a 39-goal shootout that only further serves to whet the appetite for what could lay ahead in September.
The Cats fell agonisingly short of becoming the first visiting team to win at Atkins Street since June of 2015 when a 40m goal on the run from Jake Hyland lifted the Bulldogs to a memorable 20.7 (127) to 19.12 (126) victory, extending North Bendigo's home winning streak to 35 in a row.
In a game full of momentum shifts, the Cats led by seven points at quarter-time and 14 at half-time, while the Bulldogs were seven points up at three quarter-time.
However, the Bulldogs' remarkable run of wins at home looked on the verge of coming to an end when the Cats led by 12 points at the 28-minute mark of the final term.
"We just hung in and hung in and eventually, got ourselves over the line," North Bendigo coach Matt Dillon said.
"We were probably cooked three times, but to keep coming back and find a way to win in those last couple of minutes was just a massive effort from the boys.
"We didn't play that well early and were probably a bit indirect with the footy, but we addressed that at half-time.
"Being on a small ground, it was one of the highest pressure games I've seen. Both sides crashed in all game and it was just a win full of heart by the boys.
"There's a lot of people at North saying this is the best game they've seen for 10, 20 years."
The Bulldogs - who have now won 10 games in a row - lost captain Jarrod Findlay to a bad corkie early in the game.
Key forwards Brady Herdman (seven) and Darcy Richards (five) combined for 12 goals for the Bulldogs.
Herdman was the Bulldogs' best, while Shane Harris, who spent time on the Cats' Jarod Bacon before moving to defence and playing a pivotal role in the second half, also stood out.
"Some of the marks he took in the second half... we wouldn't have won the game without him," Dillon said.
"He really put his body on the line and took some telling marks late that stopped some of their momentum."
The Cats' score of 126 was the competition's highest losing total since Leitchville-Gunbower kicked 19.14 (128) in a 20-point defeat to North Bendigo in round six of 2011.
"We're obviously disappointed that we couldn't get the win, but we definitely had our opportunities and that's what we'll take from the game," Cats coach Kahl Oliver said.
"Looking at the blokes after the game, they were disappointed, but they know they can match it with North."
Lachlan Collins (six) and Thomas Leech (four) were the leading avenues to goal for the Cats.
Ruckman Tyler Phillips, Collins and in-form Jarod Bacon were the three best for the Cats in a game that featured 11 goals kicked in the first quarter, nine in the second, 10 in the third and nine in the last.
Cats' defender Jeremy Mundie requires X-rays for a leg concern.
A change of coach on Friday was followed by a 55-point win for Leitchville-Gunbower against Huntly on Saturday.
The Bombers have replaced Danny Teskera with Joel Donehue as senior coach for the remainder of the season.
The Bombers said in a statement on Sunday: "The club parted ways with Danny on Friday after a lack of support from the playing group due to personal circumstances."
Having previously coached the Bombers' under-17s to two premierships, Donehue's senior career got off to a winning start with the comfortable 17.5 (107) to 7.10 (52) win over the Hawks at Gunbower.
The win was spearheaded by a 10-goal haul from Bombers key forward Tyler Jones.
"Tyler had a day out... he was really good for us today. We had him down for 10.1 and one out on the full, so it was a very good day," Donehue said.
The Bombers' tally of 17.5 was the second time this season they had kicked accurately against Huntly. They also booted 26.10 against the Hawks in round seven for a combined tally of 43.15.
Jones, Tom Brereton and star half-back Logan Prout led the way for the Bombers, who now move two games clear inside the top five with two rounds to play.
It was a long day for Huntly coach Stacy Fiske, who drove back from Adelaide Saturday morning - a trip of more than 600kms that began at 4.30am and finished at Gunbower at 1pm.
After being jumped early - the Bombers led by 35 points at the first break - Fiske was proud of the way his young side fought out the last three quarters.
"If you take the first quarter out of it we were really competitive. Last time we played Leitchy we lost by about 120 points (124), so to be under 10 goals this time is an improvement for us," Fiske said.
Four of the more experienced players in the Hawks' side in Harry Whittle, Jayden Cowling, Jacob Greenwood and Phil Ryan were all among their best.
Mount Pleasant's Ben Weightman produced a forward masterclass with a highlight-laden performance against rivals Heathcote.
Weightman booted nine goals, but also soared high for a pair of mark-of-the-year contenders in the Blues' 21.16 (142) to 10.8 (68) victory at Toolleen.
"I reckon that's just about the best game of country footy I've seen anyone play," Blues coach Darren Walsh.
"He kicked 9.5 and took a couple of absolute screamers. It's a big call, but that's as good a game as I've seen in the country."
Heathcote coach Wayne Primmer agreed that Weightman was unstoppable in the Blues' front half.
"I haven't seen him take screamers like he did today. He took two where he stood on the other bloke's head, and another where he was running with the flight and smashed into his team-mate Dan Davie coming the other way," Primmer said.
"He kicked a couple from the boundary line, three snaps, two from hangers; and I didn't think our full-back (Nathan Bake) did a lot wrong with the way he positioned himself."
The Blues were 31 points up at three quarter-time before finishing with a burst of 9.4 to 2.3 in the final term to blow the final margin out to 74 points.
As well as Weightman, Billy Mahony and Nick Edwards were also strong contributors for the Blues, while consistent Dylan Robinson, Jack Paisley and Jack Brooks (two goals) were the pick of the players for the Saints.
Colbinabbin soaked up a first-half challenge from White Hills before beating the Demons for a 17th-straight time.
The Grasshoppers were four points up at half-time, but finished comfortable 31-point victors at Scott Street, 16.12 (108) to 11.11 (77).
However, the Grasshoppers have copped another season-ending injury, this time to Jono Barnett (knee).
"Jono has been a really solid defender for us, so it's a big loss that's really shattering for the group," Colbinabbin coach Julian Bull said.
The Grasshoppers' victory locks up a top-three finish and a likely qualifying final clash with LBU on August 24.
"Our execution going forward in the first half wasn't great, but we cleaned it up in the second half and that's when we started to pull away," Bull said.
"I thought our defence held up really well and our midfield was solid against some quality opposition and the team played with a great will to win."
On-ballers Todd Bryant and Sam Vale, ruckman Hadleigh Sirett and Lachlan Ezard, who had the job on Demons' coach Sam Kerridge, were the Grasshoppers' top performers.
In his 250th club game for White Hills, skipper David Wright was the Demons' best player.
"Dave was a superstar today... the way he cracked in and put his head over the footy was phenomenal,'' Kerridge said.
"To play 250 games at the one club at any level is fantastic; it's a pity we couldn't get the win for him and his family and friends, but that's footy."
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