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Two penalties goals to Christian Kagiassis saw yet another lead change, with the visitors restoring slight scoreboard dominance at 16-14.
With Gordon fullback Jaline Graham shown yellow in the 64th-minute for an illegal tackle, momentum was shifting towards the Rebels.
The visitors took advantage of their extra number soon after, with a bullocking run from Andrew Tuala sending the Stags defenders scrambling backwards, before a beautifully weighted cut out pass found an unmarked Ryan Menzies in the corner.
But the defending champions refused to roll over, and moments later Gordon again cut into the deficit after a huge scrum effort saw possession shift and scrumhalf Jake Abel quickly dart from the base of the scrum to dive over the line.
With the game in the balance at 23-19 and the final siren already rung, the Highlanders class and fitness shown through.
Repeated scrum efforts close the visitors line begun to expose a tiring Rebels pack. After replacement prop Airi Hunt was shown yellow for repeated infringements the Stags pressure was too much, with Jake Abel again calmly controlling the ball and the base of the scrum before diving over to seal an epic victory in the 87th-minute of play.
Southern Districts focus now shifts to the Hunter Wildfires in Round Six, after the Newcastle side demolished the Penrith Emus 86-10 yesterday at home. It’s a must win for the Rebels, who need competition points to show for some positive early season form.