The riveting final quarter in Sunday’s preliminary final provided a host of unforgettable moments.
Yarrawonga started with a 10-point lead when strong defender Jordan Daniel produced the first piece of desperation, smothering Wangaratta Ben Speight’s shot after a minute.
Pigeons’ veteran Drew Barnes then chased down the league’s fastest man Mat Grossman on the 50-metre arc, setting up Mark Whiley’s goal for a 15-point lead.
Jessie Smith responded for the Pies, then 190-centimetre ruckman Zac Leitch showed surprising pace to ambush the classy Ryan Bruce as the Pigeons went into attack.
A minute later, Brad Meville goaled and the Pigeons’ lead was cut to three points.
Wangaratta was storming home and Josh Porter snatched the lead.
Matt Kelly bullocked his way for another clearance, although the impressive Tom Whittlesea couldn’t convert.
After a quiet first three-quarters, Ben Douthie provided composure in defence and when Porter grabbed his third, the favourites had some breathing space.
But there was drama with Porter three minutes later.
He went to chase the ball, but fell to the ground and spent a minute trying to get up, clutching his right calf.
He looked to the bench, but battled on.
And then with just under five minutes left, Pigeons’ Nick Lawless set off.
Lawless is one of the league’s quickest and most unpredictable players, but defender Michael Bordignon ran him down.
“Yeah, I just kept going and following the ball and I eventually caught up with him,” he said.
“He actually got me in the groin, so I was a bit ginger afterwards.”
Yarrawonga never really threatened in the final minutes, although Whiley took a strong mark to kick-start an attacking raid.
Wangaratta’s pressure had turned the match, but the trick is now to replicate that for four quarters as it looks to stop Albury snaring a record-equalling four straight titles at the Lavington Sportsground on Saturday.
“Absolutely, Albury’s played in eight grand finals,” Pies’ coach Dean Stone said.
“We’re the new kids on the block, but you know what, there’s a real hunger in the group.
“We’re a young group, we’ve got everything to play for and nothing to lose.”
Albury claimed the Pies’ mantle as the league powerhouse in 2009.