HARCOURT and Carisbrook both upstaged their higher-ranked opponents to win Saturday's Maryborough-Castlemaine District league qualifying finals.
The league's first finals series in three years kicked off with Harcourt defeating Trentham by five points at Princes Park and Carisbrook beating Natte Bealiba by 15 points.
It was the second time this season Harcourt had beaten Trentham by five points as the Lions prevailed 9.7 (61) to 8.8 (56) after Jed Rodda kicked the match-winner in the dying stages.
In what was a low-scoring game where just 17 goals were kicked, the impact of forward Rodda was telling as he slotted four and was named best for the Lions as they moved a step closer in their quest for a first flag since 2007.
Harcourt - which has inflicted the only two losses Trentham has suffered this year - got the jump on the minor premier Saints early, leading by 23 points at quarter-time, 5.1 to 1.2.
By three quarter-time Trentham had cut the deficit to seven points, setting the scene for what was an absorbing final quarter.
As well as Rodda kicking four goals for Harcourt, Liam Bianco also booted four for Trentham, while Saints' century goalkicker Jake Keogh slotted two.
At Avoca, Carisbrook held Natte Bealiba goal-less in the first half on the way to its 13.11 (89) to 11.8 (74) victory, moving the Redbacks just one win away from playing in a seventh-straight grand final.
The Swans could muster just 0.6 in the first half to the Redbacks' 5.6 as they trailed by 30 points at the main break.
Natte Bealiba straightened up after half-time, adding 11.2, but the Redbacks kicked 8.5 to ensure their direct route through to the preliminary final.
Dean Chester was lively for the Redbacks, booting five goals to lead their best players ahead of Harley Hunter and Harry Butler.
Coming off 121 goals in the home and away season, Natte Bealiba forward Danny Brewster kicked three.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Navarre spoiled Dunolly's long-awaited return to the finals with a 155-point hammering of the Eagles in their elimination final.
In what was Dunolly's first final since 2011, the Eagles proved no match for the Grasshoppers, who recorded a 27.15 (177) to 3.4 (22) demolition at Princes Park.
The warning bells were sounding from the outset for the Eagles as Navarre raced to a 38-point lead at quarter-time, 6.5 to 0.3.
The Grasshoppers' four-quarter onslaught was spearheaded by a 15-goal haul from forward Cody Driscoll - his third double-figure bag of the season that took him to 84 for the year.
Co-coach Bailey Goodwin was the best for the Eagles, who while they will be disappointed at how Sunday unfolded, the season as a whole has been a massive step forward.
And in the other elimination final Lexton was too good for Maldon, winning 11.12 (78) to 8.8 (56).
* Semi-finals next week - Trentham v Navarre, Natte Bealiba v Lexton.
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