Comments Published on November 17, 2018 at 10:48 pm Contact Billy: [email protected] | @Wheyen3 Facebook Twitter Google+ ENDICOTT — When Cicero-North Syracuse’s season ended in 2017 in the state semifinal, Conner Hayes wrote down a number on a chalkboard in his room of how many days it would be until the 2018 season.Saturday, his 2018 season ended in the state semis again, and there’s no new high school season to count down to. The senior has played his final snap in a C-NS uniform after four years as a starter, which included leading the Northstars to their first, and then second, sectional titles.Section III’s C-NS (11-1) couldn’t handle the speed of Section V’s Aquinas (12-0) on Saturday at Union-Endicott High School in the Class AA New York state semis, as C-NS lost 28-21. Aquinas will head on to the state final next weekend at the Carrier Dome, while the Northstars season ends two wins short of a state title for the second year in a row.“We played a really good football team and we made some mistakes early on, and we can’t make mistakes,” C-NS head coach Dave Kline said.The Northstars won the toss and chose to receive the opening kickoff, and it looked like the right move. C-NS moved right down the field, and Hayes ended up connecting with fellow senior Shy’rel Broadwater for a 39-yard touchdown down the seam.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe rest of the first half was all Aquinas, though. A jet sweep turned jump pass from Kobe McNair to Isaac Bushen knotted the game up. Then Tyler Szalkowski found McNair for a short touchdown through the air. And then Caron Robinson juked by a defender to run for an 8-yard touchdown.The opening drive of the second half could’ve been a backbreaker for C-NS after the Lil’ Irish received the half-opening kick. Aquinas went 95 yards down the field and completed the series with a second touchdown from Szalkowski to McNair. But the Northstars didn’t quit.“The fight they showed, the heart they showed, the character they showed,” Kline said. “We were down 28-7, it would have been easy to roll over and die. And these kids didn’t do that. They fought. They fought. They fought.”Twice, Jaiquawn McGriff found the end zone to bring the game closer. And the Northstars got the final stop they needed, getting the ball back with 1:51 to go and 85 yards to drive.But on fourth down near the 50, Hayes unleashed a high-arcing pass toward the right sideline. There were three Aquinas defenders under the descending throw, and there was C-NS’ Broadwater. The senior receiver has caught 75 passes in his career, most from Hayes. But as he leaped to snag this one, the defense broke it up. The ball fell to the turf, as did Broadwater. Aquinas knelt twice, and that was it for Hayes, Broadwater, McGriff and the Northstars.Four years ago, Hayes took over as C-NS starting quarterback. The Northstars had just gone 3-5. They went 5-4 in their first year under Hayes and Kline. In 2016, most of the rest of this year’s senior class joined the squad. They proceeded to go 32-3 in the past three seasons. They won the first sectional title in the school’s history, and then repeated.“They’re just a special group of kids,” Kline said. “That’s one heck of a stretch for a group of young men to step up and do.”It was a “brick by brick” process that began four years ago, Hayes said this summer. After Saturday’s game, Kline implored his group to “look at the big picture,” to recognize what they’d accomplish and what it meant for the program. Through the handshake line, he asked them to keep their heads up. As always, they walked off in two lines, a team for every second they’re on the field.“I’ll take my guys in my locker room every day of the week,” Kline said.And for Hayes, it was always about winning football games. C-NS won 37 across the course of his four seasons as a starter. He embraced the leadership role Kline needed him to take on. When his defense needed a stop late in the game Saturday, he stood on the edge of the sideline, clapping and cheering them on. After the final whistle had sounded, he met most of his teammates before the handshake line, embracing them himself.In the preseason, Hayes was asked how he wanted to be remembered when his time at C-NS was done. He answered “a good teammate, a good team player, just a good football player all around and a good person.” Then he went on to speak about how he wanted to represent C-NS and “show out” for his school.For the last four years, on most fall weekends in central New York, Hayes did that. And on Saturday, from his opening touchdown pass to his hugs to console teammates after the game, Hayes kept doing it until the end.