The waiting game can be the toughest competition of them all. It tests a team’s patience and challenges their motivation to stay committed towards a goal.
For the Hettinger/Scranton Night Hawks football team, they’ve been waiting some time for their chance to rack up wins.
Not only have they not reached the playoffs since 2016, it was also the last time they won more than two games in a season.
Four seasons in a row with two wins or fewer followed from their last playoff appearance, including a 19-game losing streak that began late in the 2018 season and extended through the 2020 season, where they finally secured a victory against Napoleon in the final week of the season. to stop the bleeding.
It was a brutal 4-29 stretch for the Night Hawks over four years that had them constantly fighting an uphill battle. Class B Region 4 proved to be a tough one, but Hettinger/Scranton continued to put in the work with the hopes of finding success.
Their patience and hard work has begun to peak through this season as the Night Hawks are experiencing the most success they’ve had in recent years, posting a 4-1 record through the first five weeks.
Thanks to a number of players returning for third year head coach Jason LeFebre, Hettinger/Scranton are finally able to walk away victorious more often than not on Friday nights.
“Winning is way more fun,” Lefebre said. “It’s way harder to come every week and never quit. To only lose once so far makes showing up a lot easier.”
Wins over Steele Kidder County, Central/McLean, Grant County/Flasher, and Richardton-Taylor/Hebron have the Night Hawks at 4-1 and currently atop the Class B Region 6 standings.
The biggest thing that has aided Hettinger/Scranton this year is their experience. In recent years, the Night Hawks have been relying on freshmen and younger players to produce, which isn’t usually a recipe for success.
Those freshmen are now seniors, and are finally able to play against kids their age, making for a more level competition. With this in mind, the seniors this year have the playing experience of two to three years under their belt, something not many teams can say they have.
“In the years I played, we didn’t have a win until last year,” senior quarterback and defensive back Cade Warbis said. “It’s finally nice to see all our time in the weight room and working our butts off in practice is finally showing up.”
It’s all beginning to click for Hettinger/Scranton this season as they returned a number of players in key positions from those troubled past seasons. They’ve experienced the losing side of things for a few years now, and are enjoying success for once.
“It feels really good,” senior tight end and defensive end Gavin Dalley said. “This year we have a lot of energy and a lot of people hyped (for games). We have bigger crowds this year which we like.”
Anytime you can return a starting quarterback from a year ago is a plus and the Night Hawks have just that Warbis. He’s been a regular contributor since his sophomore year after an injury-riddled freshman season and has posted 323 passing yards with 4 touchdowns and 49 yards on the ground with two scores.
Warbis also has two interceptions on defense.
“We started the year pretty much where we left off,” LeFebre said. “We didn’t change a whole lot. The offense stayed relatively the same, Same terminology, same three coaches, same three skill guys at quarterback, fullback, and halfback.”
Another key returning player for Hettinger/Scranton has been senior running back Conner Andress. A 1st team All-Region selection from a year ago, Andress has 524 yards rushing with 5 touchdowns at over 7 yards per carry.
“I’ve seen myself running a lot harder,” Andress said. “Being more physical on offense and defense.”
LeFebre was also quick to note the returning linemen on both sides, as well as their physicality, as another key factor in their early success.
“Coach Kirby Cagle and Rob Warbis have the defense humming,” LeFebre said. “We’re playing super physical. Tackling is one of the biggest improvements from last year. Our front five on the line are playing well on both sides of the ball.”
In all the Night Hawks have seven seniors and eight juniors on this years team, most of whom contributed heavily in the previous losing seasons.
Junior running back Tritan Pekas has been another weapon on the ground for Hettinger/Scranton with 423 yards rushing and 1 touchdown.
The winning ways have made what are usually grueling and tiresome practices into a positive atmosphere with players laughing, joking around, and coming in each day excited to work.
“It’s more exciting,” Warbis said. “In past years it’s been ‘another Friday night where we’re behind a Kidder County or Linton. It’s finally nice to be there and be like ‘hey, we’re those top dogs now.’”
An increased improvement in performance means a bigger following from fans and students, which is always a welcomed sight in the small town of Hettinger.
“During games we have to calm down people sometimes and sometimes get flagged,” Dalley said. “It’s nice to see some energy.”
Their rise in prominence has coincided with some small changes to their region. Gone is Linton, who were crowned state champions a year ago, who made the switch to Class B 11-man. State semifinalists from a year ago Beach remains in region 6, but are having a down year themselves after losing a number of seniors.
Hettinger/Scranton have played two region games so far, winning both over Grant/County Flasher and Richardton-Taylor/Hebron. Mott-Regent/New England have also won their two region games, and will match up with the Night Hawks on October 1.
Their increased confidence combined with experience has provided them with the foundation that LeFebre is finally able to build around in his third season in charge.
“People know what they’re doing,” LeFebre said. “Football IQ is everything with what to expect and what you know is coming at you and just knowing the game. We’ve been missing that in the past years. A lot of guys had it but the younger guys didn’t. They’re finally getting it, so we’re hoping that culture carries over for years to come.”