Hampton Rovers will return to VAFA B Section next season for the first time since 2003 after a thrilling two-point preliminary final win over Oakleigh at Trevor Barker Oval on Saturday.
The Rovers play in the C grade grand final against Ormond this Saturday at Beach Rd.
It is the second successive year the Rovers have been promoted under coach Gary Sheldon.
But if Jason Zampaglione (four goals) had not snagged three final-term goals, the minor premiers would have been out of this year’s finals in straight sets.
The Rovers lost the second-semi to the Monds by 19 points.
Rovers captain Matt Lawrence rated the preliminary win as one of his career highlights.
“Probably it sits behind the 2001 premiership. It was such an exciting game to play in. It’s pretty amazing for us to be back in B grade after being in D1 last season,” Lawrence said.
Trailing by 10 points at the final change, the Rovers booted five goals to three.
Zampaglione’s last goal was snapped from 30 metres in front with two minutes left.
It sent the crowd of 1200 into raptures.
Jay Ting (midfield) and Matt Terech (ruck) also starred in the final term.
The Rovers carried a 16-point lead into the main break, but inaccurate kicking denied a true reflection of their dominance.
Nick Lyall booted one goal and had a hand in several others, Ryan Semmel kicked three and was unstoppable through the middle, while Gary Carr was his usual self, carving up the midfield.
Oakleigh’s Ian Mackenzie did a superb lock-down job on Rovers full-forward Matt Lawrence for most of the day. But the inspirational skipper, playing with five stitches in his head and an injured ankle, found space to kick his side’s three goals for the second quarter.
Hampton Rovers, after a disappointing fade-out last week, were desperate to not go without a yelp, and wrestled the lead back inside the opening 10 minutes.
Both sides then traded goals as the lead changed three times, and Krusher Ashley Kitts had the chance to steal victory with less than two minutes remaining.
Kitts sprayed his shot at goal, and Hampton Rovers went coast-to-coast to find Zampaglione.
Hampton Rovers are in their second consecutive grand final and will be keen to make amends for their runner-up in D1 in 2007.
Ormond has defeated the Rovers the past two times but Lawrence is confident the results will leave no mental scarring.
“I think it will actually spur us on for next week. We know we have to play four quarters, and be switched on for the entire match.”
Hampton Rovers 6.4 9.10 10.14 15.17 (107) d Oakleigh 5.2 7.6 12.12 15.15 (105)
Hampton Rovers goals: Zampaglione 4 Semmel 3 Lawrence 3 Devereaux 2 Giasoumi Lyall Duddy
Best: Zampaglione Semmel Devereaux Carr Lyall Wynne