IN A fleeting instance, North Ballarat Roosters let slip their most important match this Victorian Football League season.
Rooster Brad McKenzie had the ball deep in defence.
The umpire called play on and he was gone – tackled from behind by Scorpion Sam Blease, who was awarded the free kick and booted a match-winning goal from a tough angle to deliver Casey a one-point win.
The final quarter lasted 37 minutes, seven seconds.
Play had been tight the whole time.
Narrow momentum, in which both teams made simple mistakes under pressure, swung against the Selkirk Roosters when they needed it most.
The Roosters, with one win from six matches, had billed the trip to Casey Fields as a must-win to stay in touch with the VFL’s best.
They were instead left knowing they could mix it with the best.
Their mission started with a strong opening term.
Dean Towers booted the opening goal and a massive Lachie George bomb from outside 50 metres after the siren put the Roosters 24-points up at quarter-time.
Slick run-and-carry style had the Roosters looking good and in control.
Tough onballer Nick Couch was sidelined with a suspected broken toe and Roosters’ coach FitzGerald called on others to step up and match his intensity.
The Scorpions bit back hard.
Two Scorpions goals within the first five minutes of the second quarter whittled the Roosters’ margin back to 12 points.
Casey continued to claw its way back in and had four unanswered goals before the Roosters could respond.
Scores were level 49-all at half-time and Scorpion fans gave their team a standing ovation.
In a scrappy third quarter, the Roosters had the edge by one goal at the final break and FitzGerald reminded his players how capable they were on winning this match.
The Scorpions bit first and kicked the first two goals of the fourth.
Myles Sewell (29 disposals), Lachie George and Cam Richardson (25) were the key ball winners in the high-pressure clash and continued to drive the ball hard forward.
Roosters’ tall forward Aaron Black broke the deadlock with a strong contested mark and goal at the 20-minute mark of the quarter.
A classic Bill Driscoll goal on the run offered a two-goal buffer moments later, but the Scorpions came back.
Demoted North Melbourne ruckman Todd Goldstein gave the Roosters plenty to cheer with a late goal when he marked a Marcus Darmody attempt on the line.
But the quarter wore on that little bit too long for the Roosters and the ball became locked in the Scorpions forward line.
FitzGerald quickly gathered his players in the room and said the finishing play was one narrow instance of a mistake.
He was proud of every players’ effort in the final term and has set that quarter as the benchmark when they return to the field in a fortnight.