A late Gerhard Olivier try secured the Free State Cheetahs a 34-34 draw against the Sharks and booked their place in next weekend's Currie Cup's semi-finals.
With this match effectively being a knockout clash, momentum between the sides ebbed and flowed throughout and the Sharks must have thought they had booked their place in the play-offs when a superb second-half fightback gave them a 34-20 lead inside the final quarter.
Olivier's try, from a rolling maul deep inside the Sharks' 22 in the 80th minute, and a Rayno Benjamin try five minutes earlier scuppered the Durban-based outfit's plans however.
The result means the Cheetahs will now face the Golden Lions in next weekend's semi-final at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
The men from Bloemfontein can consider themselves lucky, however, as their fly-half Sias Ebersohn had an off day with the boot in difficult weather conditions.
Joe Pietersen gave the visitors the lead from the kicking tee as early as the second minute but the Cheetahs struck back with a superb try from Benjamin ten minutes later, after Sean Venter and Francois Venter combined brilliantly in the build-up.
The Sharks struck back when Etienne Oosthuizen crossed for a try five minutes later but the Cheetahs were back in front when Boom Prinsloo barged over from close quarters in the 25th minute.
Cobus Reinach then went over for his side's second try but Ebersohn slotted a penalty which gave the home side a 17-13 lead at the interval.
The Sharks hit the ground running in ther second half when Paul Jordaan dotted down shortly after the restart but Ebersohn put the Cheetahs back in front when he added another penalty.
Two further penalties from Pietersen meant the Sharks were leading 24-20 on the half-hour mark, the second three-pointer coming after Luan de Bruin was yellow-carded deep inside his 22 for a professional foul on defence.
The Sharks made full use of their numerical advantage and Garth April soon crossed for their fourth try which Pietersen converted before adding his fourth penalty in the 70th minute.
The Cheetahs, to their credit, didn't give in and replied with Benjamin's second try and Olivier's matchwinning score to break Sharks hearts at the death.
For Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Benjamin 2, Prinsloo, Olivier
Cons: Ebersohn 3, Marais
Pens: Ebersohn 2
Yellow card: Luan de Bruin
Tries: Oosthuizen, Reinach, Jordaan, April
Pens: Pietersen 4
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys (captain), 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Jacques du Toit,1 BG Uys.
Replacements: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Teunis Nieuwoudt, 18 Reniel Hugo, 19 Freddy Ngoza, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Ruan van Rensburg, 22 Niel Marais, 23 AJ Coertzen
Sharks: 15 Garth April, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 S’bura Sithole, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 David McDuling, 3 Gerhard Engelbrecht, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Thomas du Toit
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Christiaan de Bruin, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Heimar Williams 22 Waylon Murray.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen