AURORA — The crisp air from the first snowstorm of the year couldn't hide what was at stake at Aurora Public Schools Stadium. It took the words of Vista PEAK junior Chandler Wall to remind the spectators, the coaches and even the players themselves.
He never said it in a team huddle; it came over the loudspeaker in his own original song.
The Kings of the A.
That's what was on the line as Class 4A No. 5 Vista PEAK took on No. 10 Hinkley. And in a true battle for royalty, nothing came easy.
The Bison came away 27-21 winners, but the evening proved to be a defining moment for both teams.
"We're neighbors and you know, everybody plays us tough in Aurora," Bison running back JaDerris Carr-Kersch said. "No matter where they are, they play as hard as everybody else. We have to come in with a chip on our shoulder and know that we have to represent for Aurora."
He did his part.
The Thunderbirds (5-1 overall, 0-1 4A Pioneer) were slightly uncharacteristic on the first play of the fourth quarter. Quarterback Xavier Starks took to the air and found tight end Jerry Taylor for a 28-yard touchdown pass to put Hinkley up 21-20.
The surprising air attack could have shaken Vista PEAK to the point of cracking. But the Bison (6-0, 1-0) weren't going to let it shake them out of their game plan.
Carr-Kersch responded the way he has all year. He broke for 61 yards to put Vista PEAK up for good. The defense held for the final five minutes, 28 seconds — even forcing two turnovers — to secure the win and keep Vista PEAK's undefeated season intact.
"That was great because up until that point we weren't getting the big stops," coach John Sullivan said. "But they stepped up when they had to in that last drive."
In a way, they almost fed off Carr-Kersch's run. Time of possession was limited for the Bison in the second half and that one run not only accounted for Vista PEAK's only score of the half, but it also factored for more than 50 percent of its offensive production.
Quarterback Victor Owens did his own work on the ground in the first half as he rushed for Vista PEAK's first two touchdowns of the game.
"We're the best running team in the state," Carr-Kersch said. "Our line is very fast, our blocking schemes are very simple. We have to just outpower them, hit them in the mouth first and just go."
After last year's turnaround season, Hinkley has high hopes of reaching the playoffs and even making a bit of a run. At times, the the Thunderbirds were on their heels, but the diverse running attack from Ty'ren Draper and Dorian Fox kept them battling. When adding in Starks' two touchdown passes, Hinkley showed it was very much a team that belongs in conversation of league contenders and playoff teams.
"I think it's affirming," coach Michael Farda said. "I've told these guys all season that they belonged in the top tier of the competition in the state, and we told our team that they are one of the best performing football teams and they have no reason to be out of the speech or the contention about playoffs."
In a way, the same can be said for Vista PEAK. The school is now 6-0 for the first time in history and has fended off undefeated teams in back to back weeks. With playoff aspirations of their own, they're still new to being a team to beat in the 4A classification.
"This is new for us and the kids are learning, dealing with it; dealing with the adversity," Sullivan said.
For a few nights they don't have to worry about dealing with adversity. They can just relax and enjoy being the Kings of the A.