By ZAC MILBANK
South Adelaide hung on to win its first Torrens University SANFL U18 premiership by edging out Sturt by two points in a thrilling title-decider at Adelaide Oval.
With star midfielder Sid Draper shining to win the Alan Stewart Medal as best afield, the Panthers just managed to hold off the Double Blues to win their first flag in this age group since claiming the 1994 U19 flag.
Leading by 11 points at three quarter-time, Mark Clayton’s charges were under pressure when Sturt’s Loch Rawlinson launched a 50m set shot which bounced through despite four players standing in the goal square.
And after three consecutive misses on goal, it wasn’t until a piece of Draper brilliance sparked the match-winning goal to Dakota Sterzl in the 19th minute of the final term.
Gathering the loose ball at half-back, Draper – who made his Hostplus SANFL League debut this year – took three bounces through the corridor before passing the ball to Clay Shadforth, who handed off to Sterzl to goal on the run from 35m on the run.
Despite the testing conditions in the 28C heat, Sturt refused to concede as Jayden Adams kicked truly in the 23rd minute.
The Double Blues’ Luca Slade then goaled from close range along the ground with just eight seconds left on the clock.
And despite his best attempts to boot the ball straight back to the centre circle, the final siren sounded before the umpire could restart the play.
Draper collected 21 disposals, four clearances, three tackles and a goal while fellow midfielder Phoenix Hargrave was also an important contributor with 18 disposals, five clearances and a major.
Kangaroo Island product Zak Kier read the ball beautifully in the air to take 11 marks with his 17 disposals while key forward Noah Howes slotted three goals, including the first of the match in the opening minute.
Slade, the son of Central premiership rover Matthew Slade, was Sturt’s highest disposal-winner with 25 possessions, six marks and three clearances while Ned Atkinson, the son of Magarey Medallist Brodie Atkinson, collected 19 disposals, five clearances and a goal.
Rawlinson and Jasper Maher each booted two goals for the Double Blues, who had climbed from fourth spot to the last game of the year.
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