Rare is the quarterback who experiences anything like Jakob Olson's varsity football career.
He's known nothing but defending state championships and, mostly, winning. Last year, as a junior, Olson quarterbacked Century to a repeat AAA title as a first-year starter. This year it's the second verse, but it's not the same as the first.
When the playoffs begin tonight, Century will take the field as the West Region's No. 1 seed, a luxury the Patriots haven't enjoyed the last two years.
There's a lot more responsibility on Olson's shoulders this season, but he's not complaining. In fact, he said he relishes playing for a team that's in everyone's gun sights.
"This (No. 1 seed) is a new approach for our program. It's something Century as a whole is not used to," he said. "We like playing with a target on our back. We want to be the hunted."
Eight AAA teams begin the chase for the championship in tonight's quarterfinal round, and three of them are from Bismarck.
Century, 8-1, plays host to Fargo Davies, 3-6, at 7 tonight on the Bismarck State College campus. That game follows a 4 p.m. contest between Fargo South, 6-3, and Bismarck, 7-2. Top-ranked and undefeated West Fargo plays host to Legacy, 5-4, and Minot, 6-3, visits West Fargo Sheyenne, 7-2, in the other two quarterfinals.
With so much on the line, Olson said the playoffs differ from the regular season in intensity. Yet he takes issue with the idea that everyone has to play at a higher level in the postseason.
"There's no new approach. ... There's no different play calling. Nothing is different except what's at stake," he observed. "If you're trying to play above yourself, nothing good can come from that."
Olson isn't just talking through his hat when it comes to the topic of playing within one's limits. He had to exercise that type of discipline last season when he was a rookie on a team that had won its first state football title the year before.
"Last year I wasn't really trying to prove anything," he said. "My goal was more to fill the role that the senior class needed. That class didn't need a stud at quarterback. I just kind of fed off the (senior) leadership of guys like (Jacob) Rader and (Seth) Braun."
Indeed. Last year, with Rader, Trey Pajimula and Phil Davies lugging the ball, the running game accounted for 55 percent of Century's total offense. Going primarily to Luke Little, Kade Lynch and Isaac Bolton, Olson was 138-for-221 passing for 2,028 yards. He connected for 23 touchdowns and was intercepted five times. That comes out to 18.4 attempts and 169 yards per game.
"I think I had three (interceptions) in the second game last year, and two the rest of the season,' Olson recalled.
This season Olson has connected on 75 of 135 passes for 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's thrown just one interception, and he's not so sure about that one, thinking that the ball may have been filched out of bounds. He's averaging 15 passes and 116 yards per game.
Lynch and Jake Zittleman have been his most productive receivers. On the ground, Nathan Kraft (568 yards) and Casey Foss (384) have led the way as the Patriots have amassed 59 percent of their total yardage via the run.
Olson, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound 18-year-old, has contributed more to the running game than he did last season. As a junior he averaged 5.2 carries per game for 145 rushing yards and four touchdowns. This year he's upped the load to 7.8 attempts, 224 yards and six touchdowns.
Two weeks ago, he carried 17 times for 66 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-15 victory over archrival Bismarck.
Olson said there's no secret or magic ingredient to keeping the ball out of opponents' hands.
"I have a really good mentor here in Kenyon Wingenbach, the quarterback coach. He's been an incredible tutor for me," Olson said. "It just comes down to being smart with the ball. I trust my reads. ... There's not much to it. If the guy's not open, don't throw it."
"I trust my coaches and I trust my teammates," he added. "I know where they're going to be, and I feel really comfortable back there."
Olson said Century's success has been a boon to his tidy accuracy. Playing ahead enables a team to pass on its own terms, rather than getting into those sticky throw-on-every-down catch-up situations.
"We've done a great job of getting ahead early in ballgames," he noted.
Since losing their season opener 16-14 at West Fargo Sheyenne, Century has reeled off eight straight wins. The Patriots are averaging 30.9 points per game, third-best in the West Region, and lead the region in defense, allowing just 10.1 points per game.
Still, Olson said last week's 23-13 victory over Legacy wasn't the best springboard for the playoffs.
"We've played well at times, but you hope the best is still ahead," he said. "You want to go into the playoffs playing your best football, but we're a little disappointed with last week. ... We'll have to be ready to play Century football (against Davies) come game time."
Three of tonight's four quarterfinals are rematches. Century defeated Davies in the seventh week of the season, giving up a season-high 25 points in a 38-25 victory.
Bismarck routed Fargo South 41-14 on week five. The BHS defense roughed up the Bruins for three takeaways and four quarterback sacks.
Legacy encountered West Fargo on week four, falling 39-7.
Minot is meeting Sheyenne for the first time. The Magicians stand 2-1 against East Region foes with a 36-20 opening-game loss to West Fargo, a 59-32 shootout win over Davies in week two and a 47-15 blowout of Grand Forks Red River last week.
Sheyenne has two victories against the West. The Mustangs defeated Century 16-14 in their opener, lost to Legacy 44-42 the next week and blanked Dickinson 28-0 in their sixth game of the year.