Every athlete dreams of having "their moment," whether it be in baseball and hitting the Babe Ruth grand slam, in football and scoring the game-winning touchdown, or in basketball hitting the game-winning basket over a very tough opponent. Only a select few have stories like that, especially on the southwestern edge of North Dakota.
Sam Huether is now one of them. And while it may not have been in his ultimate favorite sport of football, to him and the entire town of Mott-Regent, it will be a tale told for a long time.
Growing up in the small town of Mott, Huether loved spending time with his friends and being associated with sports. Although Huether and his friends also played baseball and basketball, football was his main love — the teamwork involved, the tough grit built into each player and the cool fall weather blowing its soft wind onto the player's skin as both teams did battle on the grassy terrain. Not to mention, he was very good at the sport.
Football may have been his favorite, but nevertheless in fourth grade Huether and his friends went out for basketball. It wasn't as fun as football, but being with his friends and the competition that came with the sport made it worth it.
Following every football season, Huether played basketball with his friends and has played on the varsity basketball team during his high school career.
To Huether, it was all about having fun as a Mott-Regent Wildfire, playing with friends, staying in shape and having something to do during the cold winter nights.
"It’s kind of cool just seeing how far your game has grown, especially as a team — how far you get and how you close you get as well," Huether said.
The senior forward never saw what was to come Tuesday, Feb. 9, in the Mott-Regent gym. The 6-foot senior was already well-known in the Western Edge for his talents on the football field, but after leaving the gym on Tuesday, the senior was heating up throughout the state of North Dakota as the player who hit the shot to pull off arguably the biggest upset in the '20-21 boys varsity basketball regular season, and one of the biggest victories in Mott-Regent history.
The 9-7 Wildfire knew it was going to be a tough battle against the No. 3 Trinity Titans, the team that was 15-2 and 6-1 in Class B Region 7 play, only losing to No. 10 Beulah by one in double overtime. For the Wildfire, which was 3-3 in Class B Region 7, it was clear which team was the heavy favorite.
Most of the players were apprehensive, never remembering a time when they were able to handle the wrath of the mighty Titans. But for Huether, having a difficult matchup and a tough physical battle reminded him of football. He was thankful his team was unfavored to beat Trinity.
"We were the underdogs, so we had nothing to lose and everything to gain," Huether said. "Just had to go out there and let loose."
With the Wildfire on a two-game win streak, the Mott-Regent fans swarmed the stands for support of their hometown Wildfire, knowing the team would need all the help it could get to take down such a difficult opponent.
With the fans in the stands, the players warmed up and the gym ready for battle there was only one thing left to do — play.
The Titans hit their stride early, proving to be the better team by taking a 16-6 lead going into the second quarter, quieting the stands and lowering the confidence of some of the players on the team. Huether finished the quarter with two points.
Determined for his team to not be dealt a blowout, Huether battled hard in the second quarter and scored four of the Wildfire's overall eight points in the second quarter. Trinity was only able to score six but went into halftime with a 22-14 score.
The team may have been down on the scoreboard at the half, but after outscoring a tough opponent, Huether began to witness the hope on his teammates' face as they realize they had outscored their toughest opponent yet. They have lost the early battle, but they could still win the war.
Following halftime, Mott-Regent Head Coach Nate Zachmann asked his team if they were ready to try the 1-3-1 and triangle and two on the Titan's tough team. With nothing to lose, the team wanted to hold nothing back and were ready for the switch.
The team ran the defense to perfection and outscored Trinity 19-7 to take a 33-29 lead into the fourth quarter. The fans' yelling blended into the buzzer sounding off the end of the third quarter. Huether scored only two of the team's 19, but his defensive pressure was solid and his rebounding skills magnetic, the ball was always going into his hands.
"They could win," the Mott-Regent gym thought. As for Huether, he thought, "We're going to win."
"We knew we came out low, but we just wanted it so bad just to win. We just gave it all and just started clicking," he said.
By the fourth quarter, it looked to be the start of a new ballgame for the Wildfire, but the Titans were determined to show it was still in the battle.
Trinity's defense was like armor; its offense was just as strong. With each bucket Trinity scored, the volume of the gym lowered significantly in decimals. But determined to not back down, Mott-Regent did its best to hold its own and forced the game into overtime with the score tied at 37. Trinity had outscored the Wildfire 9-5.
Huether scored zero points.
Some people began to think this was the beginning of the end for the Wildfire. After having such a powerful fire in the third, it seemed as if that flame of hope, and all of its energy, had finally burned out.
At least, that's what the fans, and what the Titans, may have seen. Not Huether.
"I didn’t have to say much. I kind of looked around and I could see everyone had so much hope and we had a lot of momentum going into halftime, so I just felt like it carried on, and going into overtime I could just see the hope and how much they wanted it," he said.
With both teams tired after an intense battle on the hardwood, scoring was very limited and rare in the extra few minutes of play with defense taking the main attraction.
Finally, after an intense and anxiety-ridden overtime, it all came down to this.
With the final seconds starting to tick away, Trinity holding a 42-41 lead, Mott-Regent brought the ball up the floor.
The time for mistakes was over. It was either be perfect, or make a mistake and lose.
The team called a play, but the Titans saw it coming and shut it down before it could run to perfection.
With nearly 10 seconds remaining, Huether got the ball in his hands in the corner at the perfect distance between the 3-point line and inside the post.
Nine, eight, seven ...
Huether looked inside the post and saw teammates down low. "If I miss, they could get the rebound," he thought.
With the defenders closing as fast as the seconds ticked off the clock, the senior forward hoisted the shot.
The ball floated in the air for what felt like an eternity.
All eyes were on the basketball as it flew through the small gym and into the hoop.
43-42. The buzzer sounded soon after. Game over.
Mott-Regent wins. The fans gave a thunderous applause, it wasn't a regional tournament game, nor was it for the championship. But for a small town like Mott-Regent, it didn't matter. It felt like it.
In his moment, Huether didn't know what to do — celebrate, cheer, embrace the moment, stay calm. So he did what any leader should do: He did all four. He embraced the moment by staying calm, celebrating with his teammates and cheering with the fans as the team made their way to the locker room.
"It was a really good feeling knowing that (the shot went in)," Huether said. "I was just so excited and it was the loudest that I’ve ever seen that gym. It was just a great feeling."
After not remembering a time his team defeated Trinity in his entire career as a Wildfire, Huether said the shot and the victory now sits "really high" in terms of his high school accomplishments.
Basketball may not be his all-time favorite sport, but it will now hold an all-time favorite memory in the eyes of the senior forward.
Zachmann also gave praise to his senior following the upset victory.
"I’m so happy for Sam and the way he hit that shot," Zachmann said. "He just works so hard, such a hard worker. His best sport is football, but he works so hard in basketball and it’s fun to have a hard-working kid be rewarded like that."
With only a handful of games left to play in the regular season, and the team now on a three-game win streak, Huether believes the upset victory is just what the Wildfire needed going into the final stretch of the regular season.
"Now that we have all the confidence and I feel like we all play really well together, things are going to start clicking for us," he said.
When asked what he hoped the entire Mott-Regent gym took away from the upset, and his big shot, Huether gave an answer that is sure to warm the hearts of everyone in attendance.
"You can pull off some amazing things," he said.
Mott-Regent is scheduled to have a double-header weekend, first taking on Beulah on the road on Friday and traveling to Heart River on Saturday.