Fans at Kaneland High School thought the opening minute of the Northern Illinois Big XII East division opener against Rochelle was exciting with its back-to-back 96-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns.
And they did their share of cheering for an explosive homecoming fireworks show at halftime.
But the biggest bang of the night came from the host Knights in the second half, when they outscored the Hubs 28-0 to blow open a close game and roll to a 49-20 victory.
Rochelle (4-1, 0-1) came into the game with the highly touted rushing attack powered through a Wing-T formation. But it was the Knights who poured it on with a running game that churned out 231 yards, highlighted by quarterback Drew David's game-high 126 yards on 9 carries. David had 117 of those in the second-half runaway, including a 57-yard touchdown jaunt for the game's final score. He also tossed two touchdown passes in the game.
Kaneland (5-0, 1-0) had stellar play from its offensive and defensive lines, especially in the second half when the Knights held Rochelle to three first downs and 59 total yards.
"I'm really happy with our line play," Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly said. "We had to mix them around a little bit with (Joe) Komel being out, but as the game progressed, we got better and better."
Senior lineman Justin Diddell found himself in the middle of plenty of action on both sides of the ball, but wanted more.
"Last year they ran the ball right at me nearly every play, and I miss those days," Diddell said. "But this game was all about the heart we have, coming together as one family. That's when we really start to get it going."
Kaneland got going almost immediately when Dylan Nauert took the opening kickoff and rambled 96 yards for a touchdown. But Rochelle answered seconds later when Evan White nabbed the ensuing kickoff and duplicated Nauert's effort in racing down the sideline for a 96-yard score. When the extra point failed, Kaneland held a 7-6 lead.
The Knights nearly scored on the very next play from scrimmage when Isaac Swithers (14 carries, 74 yards) took off for what looked like an easy 61-yard TD run, but the ball squirted away from Swithers somehow when he was all alone racing in the open field. The Knights recovered the loose ball, and Nate Dyer blasted over from 5 yards out moments later. David then hit Cole Carlson with a two-point pass.
When Rochelle came right back with two touchdowns on a 4-yard run from Marquez Felix and a 9-yard run from White for a 20-15 lead, the Knights marched 62 yards in the final 1:17 of the half to take a 21-20 halftime lead. After scrambling out of the pocket, David hit John Pruett for a 34-yard strike in the end zone.
"With the weapons we have, and with Drew, we are always going to go for it," Fedderly said of the last-minute drive.
It was a definite momentum swing, as Kaneland dominated the second half with Swithers dashing for a 19-yard touchdown run in third quarter and Dyer bulling over from a yard out to open the fourth quarter.
With the Kaneland defense swarming all over Rochelle, the offense took advantage of good field position to lock down the game. David scrambled 27 yards on the first play of a drive early in the fourth quarter, then hit a wide open Kyle Fugger for a 34-yard score.
David capped off his big night with the 57-yard quarterback keeper.
"When we went to halftime, we made some adjustments based on how they were playing us in certain formations, and our offensive line and our receivers capitalized," David said. "The offensive line was phenomenal, there was no pressure all night and that was awesome."
David admitted that the explosive start to the game with the dueling kickoff returns got his juices flowing.
"It was unbelievable, I don't think I've ever seen that before," David said. "But as an offensive player, you get jacked up for a little shootout."
The Knights compiled 406 total yards to Rochelle's 211, after a first half in which the statistics were nearly identical with the Knights gaining 156 yards to Rochelle's 152.
The enthusiasm of the crowd was tempered a bit with about three minutes left when Rochelle's White was injured in the end zone when diving for an incomplete pass. It appeared he sustained a back injury and was taken out on a stretcher as a precautionary measure.