Wangaratta is through to its first grand final in nine years after posting a pulsating comeback preliminary final win over Yarrawonga.
The lead changed an incredible 16 times before the Pies kicked four goals in 12 minutes in the final term to win, 12.15 (87) to 11.10 (76).
Pies’ star Michael Newton withdrew at the final training session on Saturday after injuring his hamstring a fortnight earlier and, in his first game for nine weeks after only arriving back in the country on Friday from his studies in the US, Josh Porter took two strong marks against outstanding defender Logan Morey to win the game.
“We probably played six out of 10 in the first three-quarters, but Yarrawonga’s pressure was really up and about, I think that made us make a few errors,” Wangaratta coach Dean Stone said.
“But to find that extra bit of gut, to be able to put so much pressure on the opposition and kick it into the right spots and tackle and harrass, like we did, it was just outstanding.”
When Morris Medal favourite Mark Whiley goaled at the three-minute mark of the final quarter, Yarrawonga had the biggest lead of the match of 15 points.
But to find that extra bit of gut, to be able to put so much pressure on the opposition and kick it into the right spots and tackle and harrass, like we did, it was outstanding.Dean Stone
But the Pies’ Jessie Smith converted a minute later and then teenager Brad Melville reduced it within a kick after seven minutes.
Porter handed Wangaratta the lead when he marked and was then handed 50 metres after a scrap developed.
He again proved too strong for Morey at the 16-minute mark.
There was still 12 minutes left though and both teams threw themselves at each other in front of 2228 people at North Albury’s Bunton Park.
It was an inaccurate first term, with the Pies taking a three-point lead, 2.8 to 2.5.
However, the Pigeons quickly snared the lead and carried a four-point lead to half-time.
“In the second quarter, Yarrawonga dominated play and really didn’t score that heavily and we were able to hang in, under enormous pressure,” Stone said.
The Pies lifted, but when Pigeons’ teenager Ryan Bruce goaled late in the third, the underdogs had an 11-point break.
Whiley’s goal looked like the match-breaker, before Wangaratta’s frenetic fightback
“I just reckon when they got a bit of momentum they took their chances,” Pigeons’ co-coach Chris Kennedy said.
The Pies now face Albury in Saturday’s grand final.