Three TDs before the first play from scrimmage? Now that’s a start to the HS football season

The start of the high school football season left Roseville coach Andy Stephenson shaking his head.

Disbelief began to build with the opening kickoff, surged on the next play and hit a peak on the third, when Stephenson witnessed something he had not witnessed before.

The Raiders and Woodbury opened the season Thursday with three consecutive kickoff returns for touchdowns. Two were by Woodbury, leading to the Royals' 55-14 victory.

"It was a wild start," Stephenson said. "I have seen back-to-back kickoff returns but not three in a row."

Woodbury senior Quentin Cobb-Butler got it all underway with a 95-yard return on the opening kickoff.

"We work on our kick return frequently, so we were excited when it popped on the season-opening kickoff," Woodbury coach Andy Hill said.

After Roseville junior Javon Minor matched him with a 93-yard return, Cobb-Butler gave Woodbury the upper hand again with a 90-yard return 38 seconds after he started the trend.

"Quentin is a playmaker for us," Hill said.

Both of the Royals' returns were down their sideline. Stephenson described Minor's run for Roseville this way: "Javon saw a seam, cut back and hit the highway."

Stephenson also indicated a slight regret about strategy.

"We should have squibbed our second kickoff, looking back on it," he said. "They have a lot of athletes who are quick."

The Raiders had worked diligently on special teams, Stephenson said, and he seemed unwilling to settle for success in one area and room for improvement in another.

"We will continue to work on our execution and the importance of lane coverage," Stephenson said.

High and tight

Ryan Anderson is in his initial season at the helm of the Chisago Lakes program. He served as an assistant coach for the previous 16 years. He knows what to expect: The Wildcats will thrive in close games.

Anderson won his debut in fitting style Thursday, outlasting St. Cloud Apollo 44-38 in triple overtime.

"The importance of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity is something that I and former head coach Bill Weiss have emphasized throughout our practice and preparation," Anderson said. "It's something we talk about almost daily, and we try to create situations in practice to prepare them for those tough situations they will encounter in games."

Senior Evan Lavalle, a 6-2, 220-pound fullback, scored his fourth touchdown of the game on a 1-yard plunge for the victory. A 1,000-yard rusher last season, he scored a touchdown in each overtime session. The deciding score was set up after senior defensive back Jacob Showers intercepted a pass in the end zone on the Eagles' possession to start the third overtime.

"It went back and forth during overtime," Anderson said. "It was a great game, and both teams battled to the end."

The Wildcats topped Willmar 48-42 in double overtime late in the 2022 regular season. They won two tight section games in advancing to the Class 4A state tournament, defeating St. Anthony 35-32 and Fridley 43-42 for the championship.

"We've been fortunate to have boys who have bought in and understand that there will be emotional highs and lows in games, that we need to try and keep our emotions in check," Anderson said.

Protective look

Park of Cottage Grove on Thursday became the first school in the state to wear a Guardian Cap, a protective shell over the helmet, during a game. A few programs in the state wear them during practice, but the Wolfpack decided to add the protective look in games as well.

Wolfpack coach Rick Fryklund has invested $11,000 over the past three years in Guardian Caps, 7-ounce foam-padded shells that cost about $70 each.

NFL teams are mandated to wear the Guardian Cap during practice but not in games. The National Federation of State High School Associations has said its use does not break any rules.

The Wolfpack lost their season opener to East Ridge 40-21 at TCO Stadium in Eagan, the Vikings practice facility.

New to 11-man action

Two programs in the northeastern part of the state, Ely and South Ridge, took on an 11-man look for their season openers.

Ely's program is now combined with Northeast Range, located in Babbitt, and jumps back up to full-size football for the first time in more than a decade. The Timberwolves went 1-7 playing a Nine-Man schedule last season but had to climb up to Class 1A for the section playoffs.

Coached by Louie Gerzin, Ely fell to International Falls 25-18 in its season opener. Ely last played International Falls in 1976.

South Ridge, coached by Brent Johnson, played its initial game as an 11-man program Thursday and lost 52-0 to Mesabi East. South Ridge, located in Culver, went 3-6 as a Nine-Man program in 2022.