Aug 27, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
With one resounding post-season effort 10 months ago, the Chittenango football team announced its return to the Section III spotlight.
The Bears were not supposed to win its Class B playoff opening-round game at Marcellus. But led by a tough and ferocious defense, Chittenango stunned the Mustangs 20-7, ending what had been a nine-season drought between playoff wins.
“That win got everybody fired up, and brought some excitement (for football) back to the school and the community,” head coach Jack Hayes said.
And while the Bears fell in the semifinals to eventual state runner-up Oneida, the long-term positive effect of the ’08 campaign could be found in the team’s preparations for 2009.
From year-round work in the weight room to a successful run in the seven-on-seven Cicero-North Syracuse Passing Tournament in July, Chittenango has steeled itself to reach a higher level — perhaps even its first sectional title in 10 years.
Such a run, though, will depend on how quickly the Bears mesh in a new quarterback, new receivers and new interior lines on both sides of the ball.
Both Jon Stevens (injured early in the ’08 season) and Jake Bicknell, who played under center last fall, have graduated, and now sophomore Devin Christopher steps in full-time, having seem some action (and thrown a touchdown pass) in the sectional semifinal loss to Oneida.
Christopher, said Hayes, gives the Bears more options than ever in the passing game, with a solid arm and a 6-0, 160-pound frame that allows him to escape the pocket quickly and take off if the opening is there.
When he throws, Christopher will have some options, whether it’s Brendan Galek or Nic Bacon at the receiver spots, or tight ends Steve Mesmer and Cavin Chaires. All are first-time starters on the offensive side.
In his third varsity campaign, Kyle Mills takes over as the starting tailback, with junior Luke Bicknell helping out whenever Mills needs a breather. They’ll run behind Dylan Furco, who returns at fullback.
By far, the Bears’ biggest question mark is on the offensive line, where the entire starting five of Kyle Schiedo, Ryan Schiedo, Jordan Barber, Jon Kern and Josh Wright need to be replaced.
Hayes said that everyone, from tackles Justin Henry and James Swagler to guards John Krause and Craig Martin and center Adam Donner, need time to develop and get comfortable. Promising freshman Aaron Jones adds some depth at tackle.
The Bears’ defense proved superb in ’08, only allowing 95 points in its first eight games. The Schiedo brothers leave a big void at tackle, to be filled by a committee that includes Donner, Swagler, Henry, Evan Salce, Taylor Weber and Tyler Chmilewski. Jones could start right away at end, with Ryan Smith on the other side.
One particular memory from the Marcellus playoff game that remains potent for Chittenango fans was the sight of Martin (all of 5-9 and 161 pounds at the time) chasing down the Mustangs’ star quarterback, Will Fiacchi, and forcing him into mistakes.
Martin moves from defensive tackle to middle linebacker this fall, anchoring a strong unit where Furco and Mills both return to start on the outside. This trio, said Hayes, can carry the defense early on, giving the deep group of linemen a chance to gel. In the secondary, Galek and Bacon line up at the corners, with Luke Bicknell and Will Berry at safety.
The Bears will not get any chance to ease into its schedule. It starts Friday night at the Carrier Dome against revenge-seeking Marcellus in the Kickoff Classic, then continues with a home opener Sept. 11 against Westhill, the reigning three-time Class B West champions.
Still, four of Chittenango’s seven regular-season games are at home, including Oneida (Oct. 2) and South Jefferson (Oct. 16), the other main contenders in Class B East. Hayes said his team will find out quickly where they stand.
“I like my chances with this team,” he said. “They’re capable of being good. It all depends on how fast they catch on.”