FOR the third week in a row a blockbuster clash featuring two of the Heathcote District league's top four teams has been decided by less than a kick.
This time it was North Bendigo edging out Colbinabbin by five points in an entertaining thriller at Atkins Street on Saturday.
The Bulldogs' 13.13 (91) to 13.8 (86) victory follows Mount Pleasant's two-point win over Colbinabbin the previous week and North Bendigo's one-point victory over Mount Pleasant two weeks earlier in results that are certainly whetting the appetite for what lays ahead later in the year come finals.
Saturday was the second game in a row Colbinabbin had been leading late, but conceded the final goal of the match to be beaten after the same happened against Mount Pleasant seven days earlier.
The Grasshoppers were leading by one point when Ben Southam kicked the ball out on the full from a kick-in.
Aarryn Craig was the recipient of the free-kick for North Bendigo about 60m out, but with no Colbinabbin player manning the mark, played on and passed to team-mate Sean Moyle.
With about two minutes left on the clock Moyle calmly slotted the goal from 20m to put the Bulldogs up by five points with what became the final score of the game.
"Colbo went forward after Sean's goal, but Jordan Ford took a really important mark late for us and Dylan Klemm who we rolled back late also took a crucial mark and we were able to control the footy from there," North Bendigo coach Rob Bennett said.
After being run over the top of by Lockington-Bamawm United in the final quarter in round seven the Bulldogs have since responded with two gripping wins over Colbinabbin and Mount Pleasant to remain in sight of the top three.
"Our last month of footy has been sensational. At the start of the year with a new coaching group it took the boys a little bit to get on board with a new style of play, but we kept working on it at training and the boys are now seeing the results," Bennett said.
"This past month of footy is giving us a lot of belief moving forward."
The Bulldogs named Shane Harris their best player. Harris was given the big assignment on dangerous Colbinabbin forward James Brain (three goals).
"James has been hitting the scoreboard regularly the past few weeks. Shane not only did a good job in limiting him to three goals today, but he would have had nearly a dozen marks and played a great game," Bennett said.
The second best for the Bulldogs was ruckman Jeremy Lambden, who continued a strong patch of form.
"He did it all on his own today with Ryan Gow pulling out yesterday and worked back really hard defensively to fill the hole and was really good again," Bennett said.
And having both missed the previous game against Mount Pleasant with concussion, assistant coach Jordan Ford and captain Aarryn Craig both played telling games for the Bulldogs.
"They both played really good leaders games for us and it was great to have them back," Bennett said.
Zaidyn Richards suffered an AC joint injury during the second quarter for the Bulldogs, who had Dylan Klemm and young forward Cody Riddick each kick three goals.
The Bulldogs side included Hakeem Johnson, who kicked one goal in his first game since being cleared from Kangaroo Flat.
Having started the season 8-0, Colbinabbin has now lost two games in a row.
Striving for a first win at Atkins Street since 2013, the Grasshoppers were severely stretched defensively in missing five of their backmen - Matt Riordan, David Price, Tom Hill, Ben Barton and Hugh McMurtrie.
"We had a lot of opportunities late in the game, but didn't take them," Colbinabbin coach Julian Bull said.
"We probably had five set-shots that we missed in the last quarter and to North's credit, they took their chances.
"We made a couple of really critical mistakes, including the last goal they kicked that came from an out of bounds on the full and us not manning the mark.
"I still think we played some good footy today, but in the end they took their chances and we didn't."
The best for the Grasshoppers were led by midfielder Todd Clarke and veteran ruckman Hadleigh Sirett.
"Todd and Hadleigh were clearly our best two players... ruck-rover and ruckman and they were both really good all day," Bull said.
Bull was also full of praise for the job the undersized Logan Fitzgerald did on Bulldogs' gun forward Klemm.
The Grasshoppers, who have lost top spot, now get an extended chance to regroup with consecutive weeks off and don't play again until July 2 against White Hills.
Heathcote banked another four points in its push to break its finals drought.
With some key inclusions back in the side, including Braden Padmore, Shaun Harrison, Brent Jane and Brayden Klemke, the Saints survived a scare from bottom side Huntly to win by six points at Strauch Reserve.
The 8.10 (58) to 7.10 (52) win was the Saints' fourth in a row as they continued their best winning streak since 2013 - the year they last played finals.
The rejuvenated Saints are now 5-4 and with a one-game buffer inside the top five.
Captain Codie Price off half-back, midfielder Jackson Jones and reliable defender Bill Direen led the better players for the Saints, while Jackson Conforti with two was their sole multiple goalkicker, continuing his record of having hit the scoreboard in every game so far.
"It was a tough game of footy; Huntly brought plenty of intensity around the footy and it was a real contested scrap that suited their bigger bodies," Heathcote coach Andrew Saladino said.
"It was a really hard-fought win... sometimes you have to win ugly and just find a way and pleasingly, the boys were able to do that today."
The Hawks - still chasing their first win - squandered an early chance to apply scoreboard pressure to the Saints when they kicked 0.5 in the first quarter.
"That first quarter didn't help us, but the boys fought it right out and we showed today that we can compete with top-five sides, which is what Heathcote is," Huntly coach Stacy Fiske said.
"We're playing some good footy, but just can't get over the line, which is frustrating, but I believe we're heading in the right direction.
"The group continues to want to keep working hard and getting better, which when you haven't won a game to this stage of the season can be tough."
The best for the Hawks was utility Jake Maher.
"Jake played on a wing, rolled into the midfield and then went forward; he's a bit of a jack of all trades. He uses the ball so well and has great skills," Fiske said.
"Harry Campbell also played a good game for us and did a really good job in the back line. I'm really proud of how he is going."
The Hawks lost youngster Mitch Billings to a leg injury.
"We were a bit concerned that he may have broken his leg, but the scans have come back positive and we'll find out a bit more over the next couple of days," Fiske said.
Mount Pleasant fended off a third-quarter surge from Elmore to win by 53 points at Toolleen.
The Blues led by 22 points at half-time before the Bloods grabbed the momentum and hit the front during the third term.
But the Blues steadied and finished strongly to win 21.13 (139) to 12.14 (86).
"Elmore got on a roll in that third quarter, got on top in the midfield and we were flat after making a good start, so there were a few concerns," Mount Pleasant co-coach Adam Baird said.
"But to the credit of the boys they fought back and ran the game out really well."
Mitch Bennett was a strong marking presence up forward and booted six goals for the Blues, while the trio of Zane Keighran, Dean Tydell and Ben Weightman each kicked three goals.
"We put Benny Weightman into the middle and he got us going again in that third quarter; he just reads the ball so well off Downsy (ruckman Chris Down), who was dominant in the ruck," said Baird, who is out with a fractured fibula and eyeing off a return potentially against LBU on July 16.
"Sam Greene also played a ripper of a game for us off half-back in winning a lot of one-on-one contests."
Saturday was another example of Elmore proving it can match it with the better sides for periods of a game, but not for long enough to claim a big scalp.
"We're still lacking that consistency in our game over four quarters," said Bloods' co-coach Dylan Friedberger, who continues to be sidelined after a pair of heavy head knocks earlier in the season, but is hoping for a return to the field in the coming weeks.
"The loss obviously hurts, but we showed in that third quarter today what we can do and that we're not far off, it's just a matter of locking in on that consistency."
Midfielder Kyle Armstrong continued his stellar season to be the Bloods' best.
"Kyle was huge again in the middle and is in some red-hot form. He's changed his game up from being an outside release mid to if he thinks he can go in and win it then do it and he's thrived on it," Friedberger said.
Armstrong and Darcy Laffy both kicked three goals for the Bloods.
Lockington-Bamawm United held White Hills goal-less after quarter-time in an 85-point win at home.
On a big reunion day for the club the Cats won 15.15 (105) to 2.8 (20) to move to the top of the ladder.
"The windy conditions took a bit of getting used to for us, but once we adjusted we got on top and our defence held really strong," Cats coach Brodie Collins said.
"Our midfield won a lot of stoppages and we created plenty of chances for our forwards."
Forward Thomas Leech with four goals outscored the Demons off his own boot and was named best for LBU, while Collins was also rapt with the defensive jobs of Stanley Brentnall on Mitch Dole and Charlie Hinks on Liam Bartels.
"Those boys had some big jobs and did really well; they are only young players who got the experience of playing on some players who have played good footy in the Bendigo and Goulburn Valley leagues," Collins said.
Scores were level 2.3 apiece at the first break, but the Demons - whose best was centre half-back James Davies - could manage just 0.5 after quarter-time.
"It was disappointing to lose by that much, but I don't think the scoreboard does us justice," Demons coach Jack Fallon said.
"We played some really good patches of footy; we missed a couple of early chances in the second quarter that could have put us two goals up and they then rebounded and kicked goals and got the momentum."
Heathcote 2.1 5.5 6.8 8.10 (58)
Huntly 0.5 2.5 5.7 7.10 (52)
GOALS: Heathcote: J.Conforti 2, B.Padmore 1, B.Jane 1, M.McLean 1, S.Harrison 1, J.Jones 1, H.McCarthy 1; Huntly: T.Ferguson 2, B.Dimech 1, G.Chamouras 1, J.Maher 1, J.Cowling 1, N.Grace 1
BEST: Heathcote: C.Price, M.McLean, W.Direen, J.Jones, H.McCarthy, J.Langford; Huntly: J.Maher, H.Campbell, T.Miles, J.McDonald, J.Cordy, M.Rule
North Bendigo 13.13 (91)
Colbinabbin 13.8 (86)
GOALS: North Bendigos: C.Riddick 3, D.Klemm 3, J.Somerville 1, H.Johnson 1, S.Moyle 1, S.Giri 1, N.Newlan 1, A.Craig 1, T.Devereaux 1; Colbinabbin: J.Brain 3, C.Shields 2, S.Tuohey 2, L.Moore 2, J.Sacco 1, H.Sirett 1
BEST: North Bendigo S.Harris, undefined.null, J.Ford, A.Craig, S.Moyle, D.Klemm; Colbinabbin: T.Clarke, H.Sirett, L.Fitzgerald, L.Ezard, J.Brain
Mount Pleasant 6.5 10.7 16.10 21.13 (139)
Elmore 2.5 6.9 11.12 12.14 (86)
GOALS: Mount Pleasant: M.Bennett 6, Z.Keighran 3, D.Tydell 3, B.Weightman 3, D.Whiting 2, J.Teasdale 1, J.Tuohey 1, F.White 1, B.White 1; Elmore: K.Armstrong 3, D.Laffy 3, H.Trewick 1, M.Carson 1, S.McHale 1, H.Grant 1, T.Cerrone 1, N.Kellow 1
BEST: Mount Pleasant: B.Weightman, C.Down, M.Bennett, J.Tuohey, B.Hinneberg, S.Greene; Elmore: K.Armstrong, R.Williams, Z.Laffy, M.Nettlefold, H.Trewick, T.Cerrone
Lockington Bamawm United 2.3 6.7 10.10 15.15 (105)
White Hills .3 2.5 2.7 2.8 (20)
GOALS: Lockington Bamawm United: T.Leech 4, L.Atherton 2, J.Collins 2, A.McMahon 2, J.Bacon 1, B.Fulford 1, R.Woodland 1, B.Collins 1, S.Brentnall 1; White Hills: R.Irwin 1, N.McKinley 1
BEST: Lockington Bamawm United : T.Leech, C.Hinks, L.Atherton, T.Phillips, J.Gardiner, J.Wolfe; White Hills: J.Davies, N.Wallace, P.Eefting, D.Nihill, B.Bacon, B.Fallon.
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