But the St. Paul senior running back learned a long time ago to never stop moving his feet.
After South Central had scored for the first time in Saturday’s Firelands Conference game against St. Paul in Norwalk, the Trojans still had a lot of work to do with a 28-6 deficit.
But fielding the ensuing kickoff — after having already scored the first two times he touched the ball — Butler took the return at the St. Paul 14.
When he made a cutback near the middle of the field around the 35, Butler was surrounded by three Trojan defenders.
“I’m seeing I have to cut back and I’m going to make contact with one of their guys,” Butler said. “I hit him expecting to go down, but as I hit him — I realized I wasn’t going down.”
Butler bounced off the three players, and five different South Central defenders touched him. But it mattered little on the impressive 86-yard kick return that served as an immediate answer in St. Paul’s 49-6 win.
The Flyers — ranked No. 4 in the latest Division VII Associated Press state poll — improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the FC. It marked their 50th straight conference win dating back to the 2012 season.
South Central fell to 4-3 (2-2) with the loss.
“I realized I was free, saw green and was off to the races,” Butler said of the return. “It was surreal. I wasn’t sure if I was going to go down or not, so I had to keep fighting for every yard I could.”
St. Paul head coach John Livengood has seen his share of impressive plays over the past 29 years. But the coach said kick return from Butler was impressive.
“I think the biggest thing I liked about it was how he accelerated through it,” Livengood said. “They had some guys with angles on him and got pieces on him, but Justin was able to break some tackles and not really lose stride. He had a game tonight … he was on.”
Butler and the Flyers couldn’t have drawn up a better start.
After South Central was flagged for not being out on the field in time for the opening kickoff, Cam Caizzo returned the kick 40 yards to the South Central 21-yard line.
Butler then went untouched to cover the 21 yards on the first play from scrimmage, and the first of seven extra points from Tyler Perkins had the Flyers off and rolling to a 7-0 lead just 17 seconds into the game.
After the Trojans punted from their own 42 on the ensuing drive, the Flyers took over at their own 32.
Again, Butler followed a huge hole and was off to the races. It gave him and the Flyers two plays, and two touchdowns of 21 and 68 yards — and a 14-0 lead with 8:18 left in the first quarter.
“All the credit goes to the linemen,” said Butler, who finished with six rushes for 106 yards and 3 TDs. “All the spotlight usually goes to whoever is running with the football, but those guys in the trenches make it work and produce the holes we get to run through.
“It wasn’t just about getting the two scores, it was about setting a tone, maintaining it and not letting up,” Butler said. “Because South Central is a really sound team that is well-coached. It was about establishing a tone, staying on it and playing St. Paul football the best that we can.”
After three straight empty possessions by both teams, the Flyers put together a 6-play, 64-yard scoring drive. Caizzo ran for 14 yards on a third-and-1 at the South Central 43, setting up Ethan Blair for a 29-yard TD run up the right sideline for a 21-0 lead with 7:58 left in the half.
The Trojans then answered with their lone scoring drive of the night, an impressive 10-play, 82-yard march that took 3:32 off the second quarter clock. Quarterback Evan Legg was 7-of-7 passing on the drive, including a 36-yard pass to David Lamoreaux to the 1. The two then connected two plays later for the TD pass with 4:20 left in the half.
The kick failed, which then set up Butler’s big return for a 28-6 lead.
After the Trojans punted on their next possession, St. Paul put the game out of reach when QB Myron Stoll found an open Adam Baker for a 46-yard TD pass on a second-and-20 with 40 seconds left in the half for a 35-6 lead.
“Their first two plays go for touchdowns and a kick return where we felt like we had 10 guys touch him and he still scored — then another long pass,” South Central coach Corey Fickiesen said. “Four big plays went for touchdowns, and we knew if we gave them the opportunity to make those big plays they would take advantage of it. They did — and it’s why they are so good.”
Fickiesen talked about the ominous start for his team.
“And that’s on me,” he said. “For whatever reason I thought we had more time (to take the field). We were running out with 20 seconds and they didn’t give it to us. But if you get off to a start like that against them — it’s not going to be good.
“We have to keep getting better,” he added. “We saw some guys step up and play well at times, but not consistently enough to compete with them.”
St. Paul added touchdown runs of 7 and 11 yards from Butler and Caizzo in the third quarter for the final margin.
“The kids came out ready to play — and it was everybody,” Livengood said. “The line blocked well, but also Cam lead blocking against Lamoreaux for Justin on both those scoring plays to spring him.
“They were playing with everyone about six yards from the line of scrimmage, and we had to execute our scheme correctly and everyone had to do their job,” he added. “But that key block was getting that one against a really good athlete who is playing tight to the line of scrimmage, and Justin finished it off.”
For South Central, Legg was 16-of-28 passing for 164 yards with the TD pass to Lamoreaux, who caught seven passes for 97 yards. Jackson McCormack caught five passes for 33 yards and Timmy Jayes added three catches for 24 yards.
Lathan Sholes added 18 rushes for 54 yards for South Central, which hosts Crestview (5-2, 3-1) on Friday.
For St. Paul, Blair ran seven times for 51 yards and Caizzo added 50 yards, also on seven rushes. Stoll was 3-of-5 passing for 57 yards.
The Flyers now turn their attention to a huge Saturday matchup against Western Reserve (6-1, 4-0).
“Real proud of the kids overall,” Livengood said. “South Central is a good team with a very good defense. I’m really happy with how we were able to execute against a very explosive offense.
“We bent a little bit defensively, but to hold a well-coached team like that to one score is something we’re really happy with,” he added.
S. Central 0 6 0 0 — 6
St. Paul 14 21 14 0 — 49
STP — Justin Butler 21 run (Tyler Perkins kick)
STP — Butler 68 run (Perkins kick)
STP — Ethan Blair 29 run (Perkins kick)
SC — David Lamoreaux 1 pass from Evan Legg (kick failed)
STP — Butler 86 kick return (Perkins kick)
STP — Adam Baker 46 pass from Myron Stoll (Perkins kick)
STP — Butler 7 run (Perkins kick)
STP — Cam Caizzo 11 run (Perkins kick)