SOUTH Bendigo's defence held firm under a barrage of Sandhurst forward 50 entries in the final quarter as the Bloods won their first game of the BFNL season on Saturday.
In an early-season crunch game for the QEO co-tenants who both went in with 0-2 records, the Bloods prevailed 14.10 (94) to 12.14 (86) in an entertaining contest filled with momentum swings.
Boosted by six inclusions, the eight-point victory for the Bloods also came with the added bonus of regaining their cherished Graeme Wright Memorial Cup.
The game featured two six-goal hauls, with South Bendigo's Kaiden Antonowicz and Sandhurst's Collingwood VFL-listed young gun Cobi Maxted each slotting half-a-dozen.
The Bloods - who beat the Dragons for just the second time in their past 15 matches - were without coach Nathan Horbury for much of the game after the midfielder left the field 21 minutes into the first quarter with a rib concern.
The Bloods had started the final term leading by 17 points, but were immediately put under pressure as the Dragons surged to the Barnard Street end.
The ball spent the majority of the first 15 minutes of the final term inside the Dragons' forward line as they pressed hard.
But for all their domination of play through the first half of the quarter the Dragons could muster just 1.2 - their sole goal courtesy of a brilliant set-shot from the boundary by Lachie Hood.
The Dragons had their chances to hit the front, but a pair of set-shots from Joel Wharton (hit the post) and Cooper Smith missed, before the Bloods after defending resolutely were able to grasp their opportunity.
After transitioning the ball from their back half Antonowicz marked in space at the 18-minute mark, nailed his sixth goal from 30m to put the Bloods 15 points up in what was their only score of the final term.
The Dragons kept coming though, with a Jeremy Rodi goal two minutes later trimming the margin back to nine points, and it would have been less than a kick soon after had a Joel Wharton snap not been touched on the line in what was the final score of the game.
"It was a really good win... Sandhurst threw everything at us, but I thought we weathered it really well and finished off nicely," Bloods' coach Horbury said.
"I thought in the end our back seven was probably the difference; they stood up really well under a fair bit of pressure with Sandhurst having a lot of repeat inside 50s in the last quarter."
The Bloods led by nine points at quarter-time, 4.2 to 2.5, after a sharp start in which they combined a strong pressure game with some quick ball movement.
South's first two goals were both kicked by Antonowicz from marks after the Bloods transitioned the ball well from their back half.
The highlight of the opening term was the goal kicked by in-form Sandhurst midfielder Noah Walsh, who crumbed a dropped mark from team-mate Sean O'Farrell and from 45m snapped from the scoreboard flank.
Momentum ebbed and flowed through the second term - the Bloods kicked the first three goals, including two to Brock Harvey to lead by a game-high 29 points at the 12-minute mark, before the Dragons hit back with three in a row to close within eight points.
But the Bloods answered, with late goals to Antonowicz and Harvey giving South a 16-point lead at half-time - 9.7 to 6.9 - with the pair of forwards each having three majors at the main break.
The Dragons - kickstarted again in the middle by gun ruckman Hamish Hosking, who constantly gave his midfielders first-use with 53 hit-outs - made the early running in the third term kicking the first four goals, including three to Maxted to grab the lead at the 15-minute mark.
Maxted, who took 11 marks, provided the Dragons with a superb forward target in the absence of Matt Thornton (hamstring) and would have had four goals for the quarter had he also not hit the post.
But as they had done in the second quarter when challenged - and would do so again in the fourth - the Bloods responded, kicking the last four goals of the term, starting with a 50m shot from Antonowicz, to stave off the Dragons' momentum and lead by 17 points at the final change, 13.10 to 10.11.
"It was a big game today with both sides going in 0-2; hopefully, we can build some momentum from here and get ourselves into a good spot," Horbury said.
The Dragons are now 0-3 for the first time since 2013, but have been right in the game during the last quarter of all three of their defeats to the Bloods, Strathfieldsaye and Gisborne.
"We're frustrated; I thought we were poor for a lot of today, but full credit to South, they were very good," Dragons coach Ashley Connick said.
"We gave them too many opportunities to hurt us on the counter-attack and our decision-making with ball in hand was poor for a lot of the day. We end up eight points down, so we're not far off the pace, but obviously have to get better in some key areas."
It was a milestone game for former Dragons' captain Blair Holmes, but his 200th match for the club ended on a frustrating note with a hamstring strain.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.