More than two decades ago, Jack Hayes received a good portion of his gridiron education (plus a healthy dose of academics) at Solvay High School, learning as the quarterback under the legendary Bearcats head coach Al Merola.
All these years later, with Merola watching on the other sideline, Hayes applied the lessons he learned -- with a little help from his Chittenango players.
Down by double digits in the second quarter of last Friday night's season opener at Earl Hadley Stadium, the Bears shook off that home charge and made one of its own, not stopping until it had beat the Bearcats 28-12.
Chittenango came to "The Pit" as a newly christened Class B school following many years in the Class A ranks, which included some success (a Section III title in 1999, for more instance), but also some lean years that frustrated Bears fans to no end.
During that time, Merola had retired as Solvay's coach with 210 career wins and, eventually, a spot in the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame. Assistant coach Phil Merrill succeeded Merola and kept the winning tradition alive long enough so that Merola, having beaten cancer, could return to assist him.
And into this situation stepped Jack Hayes and his Chittenango squad, who at first ran into an opponent bent on keeping the home mystique of "The Pit" alive.
Solvay's first possession covered 82 yards in 11 plays, a relentless march of power that didn't stop until quarterback Jon Orioli had run 12 yards for the game's first touchdown.
By contrast to the Bearcats' confidence, Chittenango was tentative and mistake-prone, and with the score 6-0 well into the second quarter, it stayed on that path until a single jolt with 2:33 left in the half seemed to bring the Bears to life.
Dropping back to pass, Chittenango quarterback Jon Stevens got hit by Solvay's Taylor Delperuto as he threw. The ball floated, and Solvay's Tom Hayes grabbed the interception, then returned it 62 yards for six points.