AURORA | From the Michigan State Spartan-style logo to the quarterback to the demeanor on the field, the Aurora Central football team has a different look early in 2015.
Fired up from the start despite a four-game losing streak against Aurora Public Schools rival Hinkley, the Trojans overcame some early Zero Week adversity and surged past the Thunderbirds in front of a large — and on several occasions out-of-control — crowd estimated at 3,000-plus at APS Stadium.
Junior quarterback Jalil Grimes rushed for the go-ahead touchdown early in the third quarter and visited the end zone twice more on short keepers in the fourth quarter as Aurora Central had more than it needed to give new coach Travis Peeples a win in his Aurora coaching debut.
“We came confident into this game,” Grimes said. “We knew what happened last year, but we’re looking past that. It’s a new season, a new head coach and I’m new to the school. It’s all going to turn around. It’s a new era.”
Peeples echoed the sentiment of change, even though it’s his first season at Aurora Central after spending last season at Greeley West.
“I tell you it’s a changed school, it’s a different mindset over there,” he said. “The things we’re doing academically and in the school. Kids are excited to be there, they are excited about sports and excited about the school. We’re changing the culture.”
The Trojans certainly changed the trend of recent results against Hinkley, which had piled up 80 points in the last two meetings between the teams, and they did it with defense. Defensive coordinator Jamarr Kerney, a holdover from previous coach Taylor Calvert’s staff, and his unit limited the Thunderbirds to just a 23-yard field goal by Teaggan Ilela in the closing minute of the first half that gave them their only lead of the game.
Senior defensive lineman Mike Retland and company stifled Hinkley’s offense and made sure the Trojans’ offense didn’t have to do a whole lot of work, which was good in a game where only one play went for more than 20 yards.
Aurora Central received the opening kickoff and marched 72 yards — all on the ground — but stalled in the red zone and settled for a short Johnny Mendez field goal attempt, which went wide left. Retland picked up the majority of his game-high 75 yards rushing on the drive as well, while Taevon Jordan got many of his 65 yards rushing on the same drive.
Kirk Hines got the Trojans on the scoreboard later in the period, however, when he blocked Ramzee Howard’s punt that went out of the end zone for a safety. Aurora Central couldn’t build on the lead and found itself trailing 3-2 at the break after Hinkley converted a fumble recovery by Kenneth Powell into three points.
Grimes, who attempted just one pass in the entire game and didn’t complete it, wasn’t concerned.
“Going into half, I just let the defense know they just needed to keep it rolling,” Grimes said. “We couldn’t have done it without the D keeping them out of the game. We knew it was going to pick up in the second half, we put in too much work for it not to.”
The defense — which got pressure all night from Retland, CJ Porter and others, while Dominick Jackson knocked down several passes on the outside — held up its end of the bargain and then some in the third quarter, as it forced Hinkley to turn the ball over on downs at its own 35-yard line. The Trojans scored six plays later when Grimes found the corner of the end zone behind the left side of his line for a 9-3 lead.
Aurora Central’s other two scoring drives covered 48 and 2 yards and both ended with Grimes keepers.
Peeples had hoped to see more out of his offense, which he gave a pretty poor grade overall despite the win and periods of success running the football.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Hinkley, they are hitters and physically and had a great team out there, but our execution I put it at a D,” Peeples said. “It was not tremendous, it wasn’t what we expected or what we wanted to do. It was enough to win the game and we’re happy with that.”
Hinkley quarterback Ramzee Howard completed just eight of his 22 passes for 81 yards and one interception, Jouan Kennedy’s leaping pick at the goal line to stop a late effort to get back into the game.
The Thunderbirds netted just 101 yards of total offense, a large majority of which came on Howard’s 35-yard completion to Josh Hanible in the fourth quarter.
Hinkley coach Robert O’Brien wasn’t surprised by what Aurora Central did, but he was disappointed.
“Zero Week is tough, but it’s not an excuse for the way we played tonight,” O’Brien said. “We didn’t give our best effort tonight…We didn’t get the job done and that’s more on me than on the kids. I need to get better.”
By playing in Zero Week, Aurora Central has a bye in Week 2 before it plays host to Thornton on Sept. 11, while the Thunderbirds get back at it with a home contest on Sept. 4 against Montbello.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
AURORA CENTRAL 23, HINKLEY 3
Score by quarters:
Hinkley 0 3 0 0 — 3
Aur. Central 2 0 7 14 — 23
Aurora Central — Kirk Hines blocked punt out of end for safety, 1:17
Hinkley — Teaggan Ilela 23 yard field goal, 21.9
Aurora Central — Jalil Grimes 2 yard run (Johnny Mendez kick), 8:09
Aurora Central — Grimes 1 yard run (Mendez kick), 11:35
Aurora Central — Grimes 2 yard run (Mendez kick), 11:04
Hinkley: Kenneth Powell 10-18, Calvin Pope 4-16, Malcolm Kates 3-7, Qua’Sean Smith 1-(minus 3), Ramzee Howard 5-(minus 21)
Aurora Central: Michael Retland 13-75, Taevon Jordan 11-65, Fransisco Aranda 10-48, Jouan Kennedy 6-33, Jalil Grimes 12-24, Dominick Jackson 1-4, De’Oveya Johnson 4-(minus 2)
Hinkley: Howard 8-22, 81 yards, 1 interception
Aurora Central: Grimes 0-1, 0 yards
Hinkley: Josh Hanible 1-35, Jermohd Ford 2-26, Eman McNeil 3-11, Gideon Greer 2-9