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Night Hawks look to rebuild quickly in hopes of repeating as Region 5 champs

HETTINGER -- The most glaring absence from this year's version of the Hettinger-Scranton Night Hawks football team -- which won 9-man's Region 5 a year ago -- will be the nearly 3,000 rushing yards put up by Tanner Sanford and Brandon Pierce, who...

Hettinger-Scranton quarterback Hudson Pierce (11) looks to the sideline for a play during a playoff game against Mott-Regent Oct. 31, 2015, in Hettinger. (Press Photo by Parker Cotton)
Hettinger-Scranton quarterback Hudson Pierce (11) looks to the sideline for a play during a playoff game against Mott-Regent Oct. 31, 2015, in Hettinger. (Press Photo by Parker Cotton)

HETTINGER - The most glaring absence from this year's version of the Hettinger-Scranton Night Hawks football team - which won 9-man's Region 5 a year ago - will be the nearly 3,000 rushing yards put up by Tanner Sanford and Brandon Pierce, who both graduated.

However, head coach Randy Burwick believes he has the tools in place to rebuild quickly.

On offense, at least, that conversation begins with junior running back Isaiah Kludt, who rushed for 1,200 yards last season.

"He gets in the open field and he can flat fly," Burwick said. "That's a great thing to have-somebody who can get in the open field and score in a hurry. For us, having him back is really nice. He's gotten bigger, stronger. He's looking great right now."

To complement Kludt in the backfield, Burwick expects another stable of running backs to operate in a by-committee setting that paced the Night Hawks to an 8-3 overall record and a 5-1 mark in the region. Senior Alec Andress will see some touches, Burwick said, and so will senior Damon Cornelius, once he returns from an illness.

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"Damon's just a wrecking ball, a special breed of guy," Burwick said. "He's got a relentless motor, but when you're sick you don't have that."

To spur a successful running game, and give the quarterback tandem of Hudson Pierce and Jaxon Mellmer some time to operate, Burwick will rely on an offensive line grouping of seniors Seth Olson, Jordan Dilse and Andrew Sulzman, junior Ethan Dupper and sophomore Mack Buckmier, among others.

Pierce stepped in at quarterback near the end of last season after starter Braxon Yates went down with injury.

"I think our offensive line, that looks to be a really strong point right now. That's a good core group," Burwick said. "Hudson's a senior so we expect him to play big, do some really good things for us. ... Jaxon Mellmer will play some QB for us and he's very athletic. We have to be a better passing team, and we're going to focus on that and make sure we're a more efficient passing team. I feel really confident with those guys up front."

On defense, along with losing Yates at safety and Sanford and Brandon Pierce at linebacker, the Night Hawks will have to replace Devin Faller at linebacker and Sam Kludt and Colbey Steeke on the defensive line.

"When you lose three all-state football players in Tanner, Brandon and Colbey, and three other guys with starting positions, we have to have some kids step up," Burwick said. "I think some guys that really had some great seasons for us last year, Seth Olson on the line was one of the catalysts, Isaiah is very talented on defense. Jacob (Dix) and Alec (Andress) were part-time starters (at linebacker). Reece Williams does a good job there, and we're hoping to get big things out of Damon (Cornelius) when he gets healthy."

Hettinger-Scranton saw its 2015 season end to North Prairie, the eventual 9-man runner-up, in a home semifinal loss. To contend in Region 5 and to make another deep playoff run, Burwick said he needs to see some resolve from this new group.

"Mentally, I know that (2015) team was rock solid. They didn't let anything shake them. If somebody smacked them in the mouth, they got tougher," Burwick said. "We're young but we're hungry. I think we can play with anybody. We just have to go out and prove it.

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"We've got some size, some speed, we're super athletic, but we'll see how tough they are. Our league is super strong. You can't be tough for 14 or 16 minutes. You have to be tough for four quarters. ... We're going to work our tails off and play for 48 minutes. Our goal is to contend for a region title. We stepped on the field day one knowing that was our goal."

Hettinger-Scranton Night Hawks

Head coach: Randy Burwick

2015 results: 8-3, 5-1 Region 5; Lost in 9-man playoff semifinals to North Prairie

Returners: Jordan Dilse, Sr., Hudson Pierce, Sr., Logan Lachowitzer, Sr., Riley Clapper, Sr., Damon Cornelius, Sr., Seth Olson, Sr., Alec Andress, Sr., Andrew Sulzman, Sr., Seth Ehlers, Sr., Jesus Saldana, Jr., Jack Hofland, Jr., Brett Christopherson, Jr., Isaiah Kludt, Jr., Ethan Dupper, Jr., Zack Rickertsen, Soph., Kyle Burwick, Soph., Ben Werre, Soph., Jaxon Mellmer, Soph., Bo Wilson, Soph., Ty Lachowitzer, Soph., Reece Williams, Soph., Mack Buckmier, Soph., Tucker Ellingson, Soph., Carlos Martinez, Soph.

Schedule

Aug. 20 - vs. Wyndmere in Bismarck, 10:30 a.m.

Aug. 26 - vs. Richardton-Taylor-Hebron, 7 p.m.

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Sept. 2 - at Lemmon (S.D.), 7 p.m.

Sept. 9 - vs. Beach, 6 p.m.

Sept. 16 - at Grant County-Flasher, 6 p.m.

Sept. 23 - vs. Bowman County, 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 - at Mott-Regent, 7 p.m.

Oct. 7 - at New Salem-Glen Ullin, 6 p.m.

Hettinger-Scranton running back Isaiah Kludt carries the ball against Mott-Regent in a 9-man playoff game Oct. 31, 2015, in Hettinger. (Press Photo by Parker Cotton)
Hettinger-Scranton running back Isaiah Kludt carries the ball against Mott-Regent in a 9-man playoff game Oct. 31, 2015, in Hettinger. (Press Photo by Parker Cotton)

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