THE stage is set for what shapes as a do-or-die battle for a finals berth between White Hills and Leitchville-Gunbower in the Heathcote District league next Saturday.
White Hills kept its season alive on Saturday with a 30-point victory over Huntly to set up a mouth-watering finale to the home and away season.
Although it's still a possibility that Mount Pleasant can drop out of the top five if it's beaten by Huntly in what would be a massive upset, the most likely scenario for next week's round 18 is the winner of the Demons-Bombers clash at White Hills will grab the last finals spot.
The Bombers, who had the bye on the weekend, are a game, plus 0.63 per cent, ahead of the Demons.
A win by at least a goal should be enough for the Demons to bridge the percentage gap.
The Demons had looked on track to record a win by a margin that would have tipped their percentage over the Bombers when they led the Hawks by 33 points at half-time.
However, the Hawks put the brakes on the Demons and narrowly won the second half, with the final score 16.5 (101) to 10.11 (71).
"Obviously the main aim today was just to get the four points, which we did, and Huntly showed they aren't a bad outfit at all," White Hills coach Sam Kerridge said.
"To come away with a five-goal win in what were some tough conditions today was a good effort by the boys."
The visiting Demons were at their most damaging in the second quarter when they booted 6.0 to 1.3 to stamp their authority.
"We played some of our best footy of the year in the second quarter when the conditions were still pretty good, but when the rain came in later in the game we let them back into it," Kerridge said.
The dynamic forward duo of Jed Lamb and Mitch Dole kicked six goals each for the Demons and have now combined for 99 for the season - Dole with 53 and Lamb 46.
Down the other end it was young defender Kaiden Skelton who was the Demons' best player.
The Demons lost Ollie Geary to concussion early.
Jacob Greenwood (three) and Josh Harris (two) were multiple goalkickers for the Hawks, who named Jaydon Cowling their best, while in his 150th game for the club, coach Stacy Fiske was also among the better players.
While it was an 11th defeat in a row for the Hawks, they are showing improvement from the first half of the season.
They have lost their past three games against the Demons, Leitchville-Gunbower and Colbinabbin by a combined 139 points. In the first half of the season the Hawks lost to those three teams by a total of 289 points.
COLBINABBIN v MOUNT PLEASANT
Colbinabbin comfortably accounted for rivals Mount Pleasant for the second time this season.
The first time they met in round eight the margin was 45 points. This time it was 66 points as the Grasshoppers won 14.17 (101) to 4.11 (35) in front of a big reunion day crowd at Colbinabbin.
The Grasshoppers showed their defensive prowess in restricting the Blues to just one goal in each quarter, but it was his side's ball movement that most pleased coach Julian Bull.
"It was fairly wet under foot and quite windy, but we moved the ball like it was a dry day," Bull said.
"A key focus for us was to make sure we were clean with the ball, we used our runners and we attacked hard.
"Throughout the year we've shown we're one of the best defensive teams in the competition, so it was good to see our attacking side work well today."
Matt Riordan, Ben Southam and Stephen Tuohey all kicked three goals in the Grasshoppers' 10th win in a row over the Blues.
The Grasshoppers' better players were filled with players who have regularly featured among their best six this year, including Southam, Todd Bryant and Nick Knight (two goals), while their standout was Lachlan Ezard.
"We had a lot of players today who we could have put in the best. Stephen Tuohey played a really strong game, Tom Hill was really good and the whole backline held up well," Bull said.
In a blow though for Colbinabbin, after more than two months out with a broken arm Todd Clarke has suffered another arm injury, while Hugh McMurtrie (ankle) and Sam Vale (knee) ended the game sidelined.
Mount Pleasant coach Darren Walsh said the Blues were simply outplayed by a better team on the day.
"They were just far too good for us and have been very impressive both times we've played them," Walsh said.
Nick Edwards, who was used in positions all over the ground, and backman Taig Griffin were Mount Pleasant's two best players.
The Blues now turn their attention to their round 18 game against Huntly where a win will ensure their return to the finals for the first time since 2014.
Lose, though, and their finals hopes will then rest on the outcome of the White Hills v Leitchville-Gunbower game - an unlikely prospect earlier in the season after the Blues had scored back-to-back wins over North Bendigo and Lockington-Bamawm United.
"We're still in the box seat, which we deserve to be, but we've just got to make sure we bounce back next week," Walsh said.
LBU v ELMORE
Lockington-Bamawm United rounded out its home and away season with a 53-point win at home over Elmore.
The Cats, who have the bye in the final round, prevailed 17.11 (113) to 9.6 (60).
The Cats led by 16 points at half-time before adding nine goals to three.
"Knowing this was our last game, we wanted a strong performance to make sure we go into the finals with confidence," Cats coach Kahl Oliver said.
"The fact we had three of our top five players out in Jarod Bacon, Thomas Leech and Jeremy Mundie all with little niggles, it was certainly a danger game and they kicked the first couple of goals to have us on the backfoot early.
"But we were able to get the game back on our terms and finished really well."
Midfielder Zeik Johnston (three goals), in-form ruckman Tyler Phillips and Jacob Gardiner headed the best players for the Cats.
The Cats' spread of nine goalkickers featured multiples to Patrick Gardiner (four), Johnston, Lachlan Collins (three) and Ricky Walsh (two), while Michael Ovens was taken to hospital with a leg injury.
The Cats will now have a week off ahead of their qualifying final showdown with Colbinabbin at Gunbower on August 24.
Elmore coach Danny Brewster slotted three goals and was named his side's best player.
HEATHCOTE v NORTH BENDIGO
Just like it did to Heathcote in round eight, North Bendigo again kept the Saints scoreless in the first quarter on the way to a triple-figure win.
Despite missing a host of key players in Aarryn Craig, Brodie Thomson, Tyson Findlay, Jarrod Findlay and Zach Alford from the previous week, the Bulldogs led 43-0 at quarter-time and finished 17.21 (123) to 3.5 (23) victors at Heathcote.
Bulldogs' forward Brady Herdman continued his strong form with six goals. He has now kicked bags of six, seven, six and six in his past four games.
The Bulldogs' side featured the return of Lachlan Ford for his first senior match since suffering a foot injury in round 18 last year.
"He's obviously missed a lot of footy, so it was great to get him back into it today. He found a bit of ball and took some nice intercept marks so, hopefully, he can keep building on that," Bulldogs coach Matt Dillon said.
The win was North Bendigo's 11th in a row and guarantees the Bulldogs will finish on top for the third-consecutive year.
Herdman and dominant midfielder Joel Helman were the Bulldogs' best, while Codie Price and Brayden Klemke worked hard on a tough day for the Saints, who were restricted to their lowest score of the season.
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