In drizzly conditions the Panton Hill Redbacks got off to a flyer and were soon up 19 to nil at the Whittlesea Showgrounds.
The Redbacks’ 10.7 (67) win over South Morang 9.6 (60) was achieved without key forward Matthew Byron, who was a late withdrawal.
South Morang settled into their work midway through the first term when Daniel Caruso kicked a goal from heavy traffic.
But Panton Hill won the first term with outstanding pressure. The Lions regularly turned the ball over when going forward of centre.
Down by 19 points at the first break, South Morang began to work its way back into the game and drew level at the main break.
Their second term highlight was a huge torpedo kicked from behind the centre by Tye Hall, which cleared the wall of defenders and Alex Colaidis ran onto the ball for a simple goal.
The Redbacks dominated early in the third term. John Pritchard’s hard running was benefitting his team and scored from a set shot 40 metres out on an angle.
Rhys Boyden took a contested mark and converted, then the busy Jonty Rushton restored the quarter time lead of 19 points. With the ground getting heavier, it appeared to be a match-winning lead.
But South Morang made the most of its rare forays forward in the term and scored two late goals – both to Alex Colaidis. It gave his team a hope, eight points down and coming home to the scoring end.
The Lions peppered the goals without success early in the final stanza. Then Daniel Caruso was given a free with his team down by a goal, but he was just outside of range.
With a slippery ball, he dodged around the man on the mark, was able to steady himself with a second defender rushing at him and slotted the goal. Only a class performer like Caruso could have pulled it off.
Panton Hill immediately replied through Samuel Parks, then Sam Indian – quiet on a day which didn’t suit high-flyers – drew his team level within a minute.
Matthew Fowler and Scott Conte had been great in the middle for the Redbacks. Fowler nailed a major from the pocket to give his team a seven-point lead at the 17-minute mark.
From that moment onwards, the ball lived in the South Morang forward line – with stoppage after stoppage, but no score.
“Ecstatic with the work rate – 22 strong,” Panton Hill coach Steve Layt said.
He was thrilled with the start and how his team was able to shut down the key play makers of the opposition.
Daniel Freeman on the wing did a good job to quell the dangerous Cory Giannone and also got plenty of the ball himself.
It was a sombre scene in the South Morang dressing rooms after the game. “They tried their hearts out,” coach Gary Hall said. “It could’ve gone either way.”
Their defence – led by Scott Dickson and Ben Muscat – did well and their midfield best were Brody Bell and Matthew Trim.
It was the fourth preliminary final loss in the past five years for South Morang. Despite the disappointment, it was an outstanding effort – having lost a large chunk of their 2017 grand final team.
Panton Hill rebounded well from its demotion from second division to progress to the grand final against St Mary’s at the Whittlesea Showgrounds on Saturday.
Final score: Panton Hill 10.7 (67) def South Morang 9.6 (60)