Starting with the long bus ride to Chicago's South Side, a two-hour wait in and around Gately Stadium and continuing with the football played on the artificial turf, Saturday's game between Kaneland and Brooks hardly resembled last season's Knights blowout.
Except for some familiar names.
Capping a 52-yard touchdown drive, Kaneland quarterback Drew David audibled and zipped a laser pass to Zack Martinelli on the right sideline. The senior receiver juked in, cut back out to lose coverage and dashed into the end zone from 9 yards out to give the Knights their first lead of the game, 25-24 with 3 minutes, 11 seconds left to play.
The score held, and Kaneland -- which rallied from a 24-6 third-quarter deficit -- finally overcame an Eagles squad that last year lost 44-0 in Maple Park.
"We know we're never going to give up on ourselves or on any of our teammates, and we just showed us this week," said Martinelli, who added a 62-yard touchdown added among his 6 receptions for 163 yards.
Martinelli said the Knights dedicated the game to the late Dan Nauert -- father of junior receiver-linebacker Dylan Nauert -- who passed away in January.
"We're a big family, and not one of us gave up on the other one today," Martinelli said. "It's a great feeling when you pull a comeback. I'd take a 40-point win over this any day, but it showed our team what we're made of."
The nailbiter extended a Knights 19-game regular-season win streak dating to 2009 in the Western Sun Conference.
"We went in there for Dan and not for the 19-game win streak," Martinelli said.
Brooks had its own inspiration, remembering last year's drubbing. The Eagles, led by four-year starting quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw with 124 yards rushing on 9 carries, gained 324 yards on the ground.
Despite the score, Brooks coach James Brown said this felt like victory.
"Yeah, definitely, because we played them tough," he said.
"That lets our kids know that we can go somewhere and we can play against good-caliber teams. And that's what this is about."
Following Joshua Smith's interception, Brooks took a 7-0 lead on Cleveland Clark's 1-yard touchdown run and Jesus Miranda's kick with 3:14 left in the first quarter.
Kaneland countered on its next possession, Nate Dyer bulling in from 6 yards out, but the extra point sailed wide right for a 7-6 score with 56.7 seconds left in the first quarter.
Brooks then marched 65 yards over 16 plays to post a 10-6 lead at 5:12 of the second quarter on Miranda's 21-yard field goal.
Kaneland scored an apparent go-ahead touchdown on David's 57-yard bubble pass to Nauert, but offsetting penalties negated the play and the Knights were forced to punt.
Aided by a 46-yard Joshua Smith run and a Kaneland pass interference penalty, the Eagles led 17-6 at halftime on Clark's 3-yard touchdown run.
At that point Brooks had doubled Kaneland's time of possession while amassing 225 yards of offense to the Knights' 119.
"We weren't as mentally prepared as we normally would be during a game," said David, who finished 14-of-30 passing for 275 yards. "I don't know if it was the bus ride or if it was just being here, not having a locker room, I don't know what exactly it was. But we'll correct it. We know we've got to be way more focused, and we'll be fine going into next week."
Brooks went up 24-6 on Bradshaw's option keeper, shrugging off a tackler to go 39 yards at 4:32 of the third quarter.
Kaneland immediately answered on David's 62-yard bomb to Martinelli on the next play from scrimmage.
That was the first of three straight scoring possessions for the Knights. A 48-yard Nauert reception got Kaneland into Brooks territory, and shortly Dyer followed with his second touchdown run, from 2 yards out, pulling the Knights within 24-19 with 8:29 to play.
Another defensive stop, a Nauert 25-yard punt return and a 30-yard slant to Martinelli set up the senior's game-winning catch.
"We needed to play a game to see how good we really were and what adjustments we need to make," said Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly. "So, we're just telling the kids that from Week 1 to Week 2 normally is the biggest improvement that we see throughout the year, and we need a big improvement going into Huntley."