SANDHURST and Golden Square delivered a finish befitting of the Bendigo league legend they were playing in honour of in Saturday's inaugural Ron Best Memorial Shield match at the Queen Elizabeth Oval.
In front of another big crowd as spectators continue to embrace the return of competition, the Bulldogs staged a barnstorming comeback, but left their run too late as the Dragons hung on to win by two points, 15.3 (93) to 13.13 (91).
The game had looked done and dusted 12 minutes into the final quarter when a Joel Wharton goal put Sandhurst a commanding 36 points up.
At that stage Golden Square had kicked just eight goals for the match as it trailed 15.3 to 8.9, but seemingly from nowhere found a spark as the Bulldogs stormed their way back into the contest.
Starting with a Joel Brett goal, the Bulldogs unleashed a burst of 5.4 to 0.0 between the 13 and 27-minute marks of the final term as the ball lived in their front half.
The Bulldogs' blitz was kickstarted by a string of centre clearances, with skipper Jack Geary, who was a prolific ball-winner, and recruit Terry Reeves leading the charge.
The Bulldogs' five-consecutive goals to the Barnard Street end were kicked by forward Brett - who slotted four for the match in his first game for his new club and looks a player who won't need many touches to have an influence - Jake Thrum (two), Jayden Burke and Dale Lowry.
When Lowry kicked his at the 20-minute mark the Bulldogs were within four points and then had three opportunities to take the lead.
Firstly a Ryan Hartley 50m set-shot that didn't score; secondly when Burke received a free kick for holding the ball, but missed the shot; and thirdly when a long kick from Thrum ended up being rushed over the line from a marking contest in what was the final score of the match.
The ball spent much of the dying stages deep in the Bulldogs' forward line as the Dragons fought desperately to defend before finally being able to clear the ball out to the swimming pool wing at the 30-minute mark as the siren sounded soon after on the third game of the BFNL season so far decided by two points or less.
Earlier, Sandhurst gained the ascendancy through six-consecutive goals across the first and second quarters.
After both teams had one goal each on the board early, the Dragons made their move and 11 minutes into the second term led 7.3 to 1.4.
Sandhurst's second-term lead did get out to as many as 41 points, before a much-needed two goals in the final minute to Thrum and Geary, which sailed through as the siren sounded, cut Golden Square's deficit to 28 points at half-time.
Clearly one of the key factors in determining the outcome was Sandhurst's capacity to take its opportunities in front of goal.
The Dragons won the game despite having eight less scoring shots than the Bulldogs, with Sandhurst's conversion testament to its ability to get the ball in quick and to dangerous areas in its forward line.
Having one stage had 6.3 on the board during the second quarter, Sandhurst's last nine scoring shots of the game were all goals.
The Dragons spread their load up forward well, with Oscar McKinley (three, all in the first half), Cobi Maxted (three), Wharton (three), Matt Thornton (two) and Lachlan Zimmer (two) all kicking multiple goals.
"Square is a good side and by the looks of it there isn't going to be much between the top few. We had our moments early and Square had their moments late," Dragons coach Ash Connick said.
"We expected a game that was going to go down to the wire and the positive we take is our style of footy to get seven goals up gives us a great deal of confidence.
"We've got a couple of areas still to work on... they smashed us around the footy at stoppage in the last quarter, but we're happy to hang on, hang tough and get the win in the end."
The Dragons' best player was co-captain Lee Coghlan through the midfield, while James Coghlan rebounded well from defence and Lachlan Ross continued his outstanding start to the season as the general of the backline.
Also among the best for the Dragons was Isaac Ruff, who took a courageous and telling defensive mark with Burke bearing down on him to hold up a Bulldogs' forward thrust late.
For the Bulldogs, it was a case of ruing missed opportunities and leaving too much to do too late.
"We just didn't play enough good footy early; you can't leave it to just one quarter," Golden Square coach Christian Carter said.
"Our effort lifted in the last 15 minutes and we took the game on. We hadn't been able to get our run and carry game going, but it opened up in the last quarter and we were able to take a few risks to get a lot more ball forward.
"But we still didn't capitalise enough on our chances and that's what hurt us."
Star midfielder Geary led the Bulldogs' best players with another hard-working game on a ground he has performed so well on over the years and also kicked two goals.
Ruckman Matt Compston also figured among the best for his enthralling battle with the Dragons' Chris Down.
Golden Square's Braydon Vaz rolled his ankle, while Zane Keighran looked in trouble when he left the field with a shoulder concern 20 minutes into the first quarter, but he returned soon after.
Sandhurst, which had lively on-baller Jeremy Rodi re-injure his hamstring, improves to 3-0, including the scalps of both Golden Square and Strathfieldsaye, while the Bulldogs are now 2-1.
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