Aug. 31—HETTINGER/SCRANTON — Nine-man football is like "basketball-on-grass" as the saying goes, and the seasons probably seem to move just as quickly, especially if you're a road-warrior team like this-year's Hettinger/Scranton Nighthawks, who have the misfortune of a subtle change in regions that has resulted in a schedule that includes only three home games this season.
Traditional foes like Kidder County (away on Sept. 1), Richardton-Taylor-Hebron (away on Sept. 8), Beach High School (Sept. 15 at home), Napoleon/Gackle-Streeter (away on Sept. 22), Grant Co./Flasher (Sept. 29 at home), and South Border (Oct. 14 at home) are still on the schedule this year after some realignments occurred in North Dakota 9-man football, but a pair of new opposing teams await, and that should increase the challenge during 2023.
Head coach Jason LeFebre is now in his fifth year as head coach and 11th with the football program at the school. He said each day they have consistently seen 25 athletes on the field for preseason summer practices so far. There are nine seniors on the team, including two who hadn't played on the gridiron for some time for the Nighthawks but decided to come out for their final year of eligibility.
"We're getting a lot of work done, getting in shape and we have guys in new spots because we lost seven seniors last year who had a lot of playing time and those are big shoes to fill," LeFebre said. "We've got options in spots and there are some battles out there, and it's a good environment.
He added, "They're having fun, hooting and hollering, and coming up with their own names for plays and lingo for picking up blitzers and snap-counts and things like that, so they're making it their own team and their own year and their own game and it's been a good year so far."
The team had an injury-plagued 2022 campaign, LeFebre said, so it's important the players get into shape and develop game-experience as soon as possible. But the holes created by graduating seniors and the availability of potential playing time also has led the youths to buy into the program and find out where they're going to fit into the team.
"Some guys have given up their dream of playing in a particular spot to benefit the team, like an un-glorious lineman spot and they don't get to catch or run touchdowns in anymore' they're kind of grinding it out in front," LeFebre said. "But there's a lot of selflessness and putting themselves aside for the betterment of the team."
Last year, the team went 4-6 and was bounced from the playoffs last year in the first round by the South Border Mustangs, 46-16, and the 'Stangs will be on the Nighthawks' home-schedule this year on Oct. 14 to close out the regular-season. South Border also beat HSHS during the regular season, 40-14, so fans should circle that final home date on their calendars.
"Every year, our goal is to make it to the postseason — no matter what seed we are — that means we're playing bonus-football at the end," LeFebre said. "Then, our hopes are to make it to late-October and early-November for the Dome in Fargo.
He added, "But, anything can happen once you get guys out there in mid-October with weather and field conditions change ... our style and mantra always has been, "grind-'em-ou, tackle them and play physical, hard-knock football."
Among the athletes who will be looking to make an impact will be senior running back Maddox Pierce, who has been a four-year starter with the team and also plays linebacker on defense, and junior quarterback Chason Schumacher, who LeFebre said spent the offseason seriously focusing on the game and his own growth. Senior linemen Nicholas Anderson and Braden Jahner also will be counted on to grind out the tough yards on offense and make the stops on defense as both are in their second-consecutive year as starters.
"They're really big, really strong, and really quick," he said. "They can play all three spots and we put them at guard and at tight end ... and it's a double edged sword."
Senior linebacker/RB Jaron Frank also will be one to watch, and he's," Kind of the quarterback of the defense," LeFebre added.
The top-four teams make the playoffs, and new teams like Linton, who hosted Hettinger-Scranton to open the season on Aug. 18, could have a major impact. But LeFebre added that New Salem will be in town on Aug. 25 for the Nighthawks' home-opener, "and they're always a perennial powerhouse."
"We open with two, back-to-back kinda tough ones right outta the gate," LeFebre said. "The other ones we know we have to beat are Grant Co./Flasher, South Border and those are kind of the favorite four in the region, I think, right now but another opponent we always have tough games with is Hettinger County/New England.
"Every week's going to be a battle and there are no weeks off this season, that's for sure."
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