WESTERN Bulldogs forward Cody Weightman kept his head as controversy swirled around him in Sunday's elimination final, kicking four clutch goals to keep his team's season alive with a 49-point win and extend Essendon's 17-year run without a finals triumph.
The Bulldogs advanced to a semi-final against Brisbane next week, overpowering the Bombers to kick 11 of the last 12 goals of the game in a wet-weather slog at the University of Tasmania Stadium winning 13.7 (85) to 4.12 (36).
Having missed the double chance despite sitting first or second on the ladder for all but four rounds, the Dogs can travel to Brisbane confident of having rediscovered their hard edge in their first finals win since the 2016 premiership.
BULLDOGS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats
Weightman was at the centre of the Bulldogs' critical third quarter in his first final with back-to-back goals, and he finished with an equal career-best four, all of which came as a result of free kicks inside 50.
The 20-year-old was awarded two free kicks in two minutes in the third quarter, the second of which will long be debated after he was bumped over the boundary line by Zach Merrett as he disposed of the ball.
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But regardless of how Weightman's opportunities presented, he executed under pressure and gave the Bulldogs the match-winning break they needed.
Key forward Aaron Naughton booted three goals, while midfielders Tom Liberatore (35 disposals and seven clearances), Jack Macrae (36 and eight) and Marcus Bontempelli (23 and eight inside 50s) gave the Bulldogs a midfield advantage that grew as the game wore on.
They punished the Bombers at the coalface in the second half, winning the clearances (26-17) and contested possessions (102-68) after the main break to give the team a 32-21 advantage in forward entries.
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Their forwards didn't let them down, kicking eight unanswered goals in the second half to end the Bombers' season on a disappointing note, having taken momentum into the finals.
Essendon was best served by Therabody AFL All-Australian midfielders Darcy Parish (35 and 10 clearances) and Zach Merrett (31 and four), with ruckman Sam Draper (18 and 43 hit-outs) unrelenting in his first final.
They will be left to rue missed chances when the game was alive before kicking just 0.5 in the second half.
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Former Bulldog Jake Stringer imposed himself in the opening quarter, crumbing and snapping the first goal of the game on his left foot as the Dons started with an attacking mindset.
They were proactive with the ball and then tackled hard (18-9) when they didn't have it, but missed opportunities meant they wasted their early momentum as the Dogs pounced to kick two quick goals and steal a three-point lead at the first break.
Parish turned in a stunning second quarter as the pressure in the content rose, winning 16 possessions (10 contested), six clearances, four inside 50s, and kicking an important goal.
The Bulldogs’ dangermen also rose, with Bontempelli and Naughton rebounding from quiet first quarters to become factors during a three-goal run built on surging the ball forward in the slippery conditions.
They also benefited from two free kicks inside 50 that could be debated, the first for insufficient intent against Dylan Shiel, and the other for high contact on Weightman, whose match-turning moments were still to come.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.1 5.4 8.5 13.7 (85)
ESSENDON 1.4 4.7 4.10 4.12 (36)
Western Bulldogs: Weightman 4, Naughton 3, Schache 2, Hannan 2, Vandermeer, Smith
Essendon: Stringer 2, Smith, Parish
Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Liberatore, Weightman, Bontempelli, Naughton, Smith
Essendon: Parish, Draper, Merrett, Ridley, Heppell
Western Bulldogs: Zaine Cordy (illness) replaced in selected side by Ryan Gardner
Western Bulldogs: Jason Johannisen (unused)
Essendon: Nik Cox (unused)
Crowd: 9,760 at University of Tasmania Stadium