Axe falls on the Panthers
ORARA Valley eliminated Sawtell from the Carlton Mid Group 2 premiership race with a dour 32-30 victory in Saturday's minor preliminary semi final but waited until the last three minutes to do it.
The Panthers clung grimly to a two point lead in the dying stages and looked almost certain to cause an unlikely upset before the Axemen turned the ball wide and clapped on the speed their fans had been waiting all afternoon to see, finally putting the result out of danger.
"We tested them out wide early and wanted to work them over in the middle as well," relieved coach Darryl Fisher said.
"In some of the plays we set up to go wide the players weren't there at the time due to injury or having to play out of position.
"And there were mistakes made because of that so when opportunity knocked near the end, the call was to go for it and we got the right breaks."
Rival coach Craig Wallace was shattered by the outcome believing some tricky calls by officials may have sapped the Panthers momentum at the vital moment.
"We dug in there for the 80 (minutes) and that's all I can ask the boys to do," he said.
"It's been a tough season but a good season and these blokes are real winners because they fought all the way."
For the first half hour the spectators could hardly stay awake, so dismal was the on field action as the two sides slugged it out.
Then Matt Donovan livened up proceedings just before the break with a chip-and-chase special that set Nic Read on his way to the line and gave Orara a narrow points advantage.
The lead changed hands four times in the second half with both sides content to bash away happily up the centre before grabbing whatever chances appeared on the fringes.
With minutes remaining it looked like the home side had run out of aces and the visitors had just done enough to win.
But a penalty took play to the Sawtell quarter and Orara raced back and forward across the goal moth before the chink in the Panther armour opened up, allowing Nic Read to find a crucial gap out wide.
"Flat last week, much better this week," coach Fisher added.
"It was messy and there were some courageous performances out there but in the end, we got the win.
"With another big one coming up next Saturday it's going to do a heck of a lot for our morale."