AURORA | Calvin Pope nearly forgot what it was like to win a football game and have a touchdown run not called back by penalty.
The senior running back got a pleasant reminder of how both feel Sept. 8 at Aurora Public Schools Stadium, as he rushed for three touchdowns and 178 yards and helped the Thunderbirds snap a 13-game losing streak with a 28-18 victory over Thornton.
In front of a vocal Homecoming crowd, Hinkley won for the first time since a 30-20 victory over Smoky Hill in the eighth game of the 2015 season and earned Michael Farda his long-awaited first win as head coach in his second season.
“The last time I got a win, I was a sophomore, so it’s nice to get back to that,” Pope said. “You can tell everything is changing. We’re in one of the top 5A leagues and we’re facing the toughest opponents.
“Getting a win and showing that we’re not going to back down is great.”
It wasn’t so long ago that Hinkley was competitive, as it went 5-5 in 2013 and made the Class 5A state playoffs in the one and only season under Jaron Cohen, who is now at Ponderosa.
But in the three seasons since, Hinkley won a combined five games and changed coaches three times. Farda arrived from Texas last season and inherited a program that had just been placed in the rugged Mount Evans League in the waterfall realignment instituted by the Colorado High School Activities Association that has been a mixed bag.
Since its last win — which came on Oct. 15, 2015 — the Thunderbirds had been outscored by a staggering margin of 614-59, including 44-6 by the same Thornton team a year ago.
The Thunderbirds believed this time would be different and they were right, as they built off a strong finish to the previous week’s game against Mountain Range (a 56-20 loss). Hinkley hung 14 points on the Trojans on Pope touchdowns of 25 and 50 yards in the first quarter.
Sophomore quarterback J.J. Lee rushed for another score and Hinkley had the crowd buzzing with 21-0 lead at halftime as it went through the Homecoming festivities.
A 45-yard touchdown run from Pope — who had 178 yards rushing — gave the Thunderbirds a 28-0 lead that seemed safe. But nothing has been easy of late for Hinkley on the field and it continued as Thornton put up 18 points in the second half and threatened for more.
The Thunderbirds’ defense came up with turnovers and a few key stops and Farda and his staff were finally able to relax when they successfully recovered an onside kick with less than a minute left.
“It was amazing; obviously it was important for the kids to play well tonight on Homecoming and they absolutely played their tails off,” Farda said. “Praise and kudos to the kids, they’ve worked hard for it.
“Nobody but the staff and the guys inside the walls know, but the kids have put it in. They were due.”
Indeed, Hinkley was due to win a Homecoming game, which was something the handful of the team’s four-year varsity players such as senior Casey Sharpe hadn’t experienced before.
Sharpe also enjoyed the reprieve a victory will give the team from the doubters, some of whom exist in the hallways the players walk through every day.
“Usually people doubt us,” Sharpe said. “We have a really hard schedule, so they just know we are going to lose and lose and lose. Some people have confidence and some don’t, I just take it in and show it out on the field.
“A lot of people are sleeping on us this year, but we’re just going to work our tails off every week and see what happens. That’s all we can do.”
The players also know how much time Farda and his staff has dedicated to helping them find some success on game days, so to pay them back with a win was perfect.
“Our coaches came in over the summer seven days a week and they put in four or five hours a day,” Pope said. “To have coaches that really care about us like that is amazing. This is a process and if we trust in it, everything will be cool.”
Farda admitted last season was difficult, but he’s finally starting to see the fruits of what he began to sow last season come to fruition.
After all, his team found a way to finish off a win in a game that got tight in the end and did so with a lot of people watching.
“We have kids with little experience winning and they are stepping up,” said Farda, whose team has the same 1-1 record in the early going as Cherokee Trail, Overland and Regis Jesuit among Aurora programs.
“They are finding themselves in positions where they are saying ‘hey, we can do this,’” he added. “It’s fun to watch and fun to be a part of. We have young guys with great senior leadership and they are buying into it.”
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel