Woodbury coach Andy Hill got on his kick return unit in practice this week. That’s a unit that generally scores two to three times during each season for the Royals, yet it was struggling to get the ball to the 30-yard line through the first three games of the season.
“I really challenged them (like), ‘It’s a little embarrassing,'” Hill said. “Because this is one of our go-to units. We feel good if they’ve got to kick it to us.”
So Woodbury paid special attention to kick returns this week, repping it time and again to get it right. The payoff came instantly Friday.
Quentin Cobb-Butler returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to set the tone for Woodbury’s 20-7 homecoming victory over Burnsville (2-2).
“It was a team effort. Our coach challenged us and said we were kind of slow on special teams,” Cobb-Butler said. “We came out and started fast on special teams to start the game. … We just were in the right spot, and everyone was doing their job, and it opened up a hole and we were able to capitalize and start the game off well.”
Hill noted blockers handled their assignments well on the return, but Cobb-Butler also made guys miss. He’s known to do that, and did so again late in the second quarter. The junior defensive back intercepted a pass, then returned it 36 yards for his second score of the game to put Woodbury up 14-0.
That was Cobb-Butler’s fourth touchdown of the season. He has two pick-sixes this season and also has a receiving score. Cobb-Butler also returned an interception for a score when Woodbury topped Burnsville last fall.
“You can’t make a mistake if you’re throwing to Quentin’s side,” Hill said. “He’s a spark. Especially in games like this where you can’t get going, those plays help ignite the sideline, which helps the team.”
Whenever he touches the ball, he usually finds the end zone.
“Every time I guess I touch the ball, I want to score. Make plays for our team to try to win,” Cobb-Butler said. “That’s all that we want, we want to win, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to win.”
Right now, for Woodbury (4-0), that requires plays being made in special teams and on defense as its offense still works to find its groove. That was true for both offenses on the field Friday. Hill was glad Woodbury got some semblance of a running game going — Isaiah Tisdle ran for 84 yards and a score against Burnsville’s strong defensive front.
But, in general, Burnsville’s defense controlled that side of the game — forcing multiple Royals turnovers. But the same was true — if not more so — for the Royals’ defense. The Blaze tallied just 156 yards of total offense. Woodbury’s defensive line lived in the Burnsville backfield. Kayode Amusan chased Blaze quarterback Jeremy Sherlock around one play after the next, making it impossible for Burnsville to find any offensive rhythm.
“He was running for his life, and Kayode was getting back there, everyone was getting back there,” Cobb-Butler said. “Our defensive line had great pass rush the whole game and forced the quarterback to make plays that he’s not used to making.”
One Burnsville playmaker who was able to make his presence felt was Eric Kilgore. On the opening possession of the second half, Kilgore caught a quick out, made a Woodbury defender miss and raced 75 yards for a score to cut the Woodbury lead in half. Kilgore has proven himself to be Burnsville’s big play threat.
“I said, ‘As long as we tackle him, we’ll be OK,’ ” Hill recalled, “and then he was gone the next play.”
But Woodbury responded in the ensuing drive, which featured a successful fake punt in Burnsville territory on 4th and 4 — a concession Hill said he made after repeated requests to do so from special teams coordinator Lane Swansson. That eventually led to a 5-yard rushing touchdown from Tisdle.
The Royals struck gold on multiple fourth-down conversions near midfield in the second half, also converting one midway through the fourth quarter on a strike from George Bjellos to Kipp Koeplin to extend a drive that milked much of the game’s remaining clock.
Now the challenge is to find equal success on all of the other downs.
“We’ve got to get the offense figured out,” Hill said.