If there ever was a revelation during Scott Olsen’s 10 years as the head football coach for Hillsboro-Central Valley, it came after a 28-6 loss. That was the score of the 2016 North Dakota Class 2A semifinals in which Olsen’s team lost at perennial powerhouse Bismarck St. Mary’s.
“I said it three years ago after that game … ‘I want to be like St. Mary’s,’” Olsen said. “I knew we would never be as big at St. Mary’s, but just how we get off the ball, how we run, how we block. I just wanted our teams to be a lot more physical.”
Ever since that loss, Olsen’s teams have lost just one game — winning a Class 1A state title in 2017 and finishing as the 1A runner-up in 2018. Now, in its return season to Class 2A, Hillsboro-Central Valley takes an 11-0 record into Friday’s championship game against Beulah.
“This year’s seniors were freshmen back then,” Olsen said, referring to the St. Mary’s loss that pushed him to improve his football program.
This year’s 12 seniors have a 42-4 record in the last four years. They beat that St. Mary’s team twice this season by scores of 20-7 and 35-0 in last week’s semifinals. In their final season, the Burros are outscoring opponents by an average score of 21-6.
“I knew we had some excellent skill players, we just had to fill in some holes with our linemen,” Olsen said. “Once we figured that out, we have become tough to beat.”
They almost got beat in the sixth game this season, surviving a 14-13 overtime win over Devils Lake. That was a game in which three linemen went down with injuries in the first series.
“We were able to persevere,” said Olsen, whose team scored the winning touchdown on a fourth-down-and-10 play in which Carson Henningsgard made a diving catch.
Henningsgard is one of those 12 seniors. So is Oscar Benson, a running back who has committed to play football at North Dakota State.
“He’s the best player on the field … there is a reason why NDSU wanted him,” Olsen said of the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Benson who has rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
Then there is senior quarterback Micah Gallagher, who runs the option offense but has also passed for 734 yards.
“He is the captain of the ship,” Olsen said.
Most of Gallagher’s passes end up in the hands of senior Gavin Wright, who caught 17 passes for 365 yards and has also intercepted eight passes on defense.
“He wins all the 50-50 balls,” Olsen said. “In the last two years, he has exploded physically. He’s just a really good athlete who has become a really good football player.”
Isaac Luithle is another senior, a fullback who placed at the state track and field meet in the 200 meters.
“He is as fast as anybody on the field,” said Olsen, whose team will play for Friday’s state title against a Beulah team the Burros defeated 21-8 in the fourth game of the season.
Olsen called that game played in Beulah one of the weirdest he has ever experienced. After the game was delayed because of two lightning strikes, both coaches agreed to played junior varsity players after the Burros built a 21-8 halftime lead.
“It was a long night … we ended up getting home at 4 in the morning,” Olsen said. “But I am not surprised at all that they made it to the title game. They are physical, big and tough.”
That’s what Olsen was when he played at Hillsboro, where as a sophomore his team lost to New England in the 9-man championship played in the Fargodome.
Olsen went on to play fullback at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, Minn. and at Midland College in Fremont, Neb. After living in Omaha for a couple of years, he and his wife moved back to their hometown of Hillsboro.
“You never know what life plans out,” Olsen said. “Once we got back, I wanted to get into coaching.”
It must run in the family. His younger brother, who played football at Valley City State, is an assistant coach at Northwestern State in Louisiana.
Working in a hardware store also runs in the family. His grandparents, Ed and Marliss Olsen, opened up Olsen Hardware and Appliance store in 1969. Three generations of Olsens have been working there since — including Scott.
During the day, Scott works in the store located on the corner of Main Avenue and Caledonia Avenue. At 3 p.m., his dad shows up and Olsen heads a few blocks east to the football field to game plan and conduct practice.
Friday, Olsen is hoping to bring back some different kind of hardware to his hometown.