If it's late in the basketball season and Kaneland is playing at Rochelle, chances are it's a big game.
And the Knights are making a habit of winning those big games.
After beating the Hubs two years ago on their homecourt in the final game of the season to win the Northern Illinois Big XII title, Kaneland repeated history with a 69-66 history Friday to claim this year's championship.
The Knights (15-11, 7-3), who also won a regional at Rochelle's state-of-the-art home gym, already had clinched a share of the title. Friday's win, which took a second-half comeback from 12 points down, gave them the outright championship.
"You want to win it outright, you want to win it with a win," Kaneland coach Brian Johnson said. "That's something these boys are going to remember the rest of their lives.
"It always seems we come to Rochelle and play a big game. It always seems something is on the line."
Rochelle (11-18, 4-6) looked ready to play spoiler on its Senior Night. The Hubs repeatedly beat Kaneland off the dribble in the first quarter, getting four "and-1" opportunities in the first five minutes of the game.
All the fouls put Rochelle to the line for its first 1-and-1 in the final seconds of the first quarter. The Hubs made 13 of 16 free throws in the first half to lead 18-9 after one quarter and 38-26 at halftime of a NI Big XII game that looked to be shaping up like the Knights' last two losses to DeKalb and Morris.
"They were just attacking us," Johnson said. "We were playing with our hands and fouling everywhere. They put it to us in the first half. The kids dug own deep."
Kaneland, which also hurt itself with 13 first-half turnovers, responded with the first 10 points of the third quarter to quickly get back in the game down 38-36. The Knights repeated the formula in their first win over Rochelle when they rallied from 11 points down to win.
Matt Limbrunner, plagued by 2 first-quarter fouls, scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half to ignite the comeback. He also made the key play on the defensive end drawing the fifth foul on Luke Manning with 6:42 still left in the third quarter.
"Some people would say why do you have him (Manning) out there?," Rochelle coach Tim Thompson said. "That's just not my philosophy. He's our third-leading scorer, he's someone we need out there. He took a chance going to the basket, probably a good call on the charge. I rolled the dice and it just didn't work out."
Thompson then picked up a technical foul moments later as the momentum swung the Knights' way. "I have to take a lot of ownership tonight," Thompson said. "Getting that technical, letting out frustration was a bad move. That seat-belt rule I felt I wasn't able to coach my kids the same way."
Already short-handed playing without leading scorer and four-year starter Grant Prusator, without Manning the Hubs were down two of their three best players for the final 15 minutes. Prusator scored 22 points last Friday in a win over Sycamore and made nine 3s against Geneseo Tuesday but after an injury at Wednesday's practice the Hubs wanted him to be back at 100 percent for regionals next week.
Rochelle senior Matt Rosenwinkel did all he could to keep his team ahead, scoring 27 points and making 15 of 16 free throws, and his layup left the Hubs up 47-41.
Sophomore Connor Fedderly (8 points) answered with a long 2 and then a corner 3 to pull the Knights within 47-46 going to the fourth. Johnson said those big shots gave him "a little flashback" to the timely 3s from Ty Heinle two years ago in the Knights' conference-clinching win.
After Rosenwinkel opened the fourth quarter with a low-post score, the Knights scored 9 straight taking the lead for good when Limbrunner followed his own miss for a bucket. Drew David swished a key 3-pointer with 2:10 left after the Hubs had pulled within 57-53, and David also made 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute.
"Brian is a great coach and has a great group of kids and they are conference champions and they deserve it," Thompson said. "They played like it down the stretch."
John Pruett, wearing goggles to protect stitches in his right eye after he took a finger in the eye at Tuesday's practice, led Kaneland with 19 points. He scored 12 in the first half to keep the Knights close.
"Our coach told us not to let your lows get too low and our highs get too high," Pruett said. When things got bad we tried to stop it as quick as we could.
"Now that conference is over with we're glad we got it done but our next goal is a regional championship."