The St. Thomas More Cougars football team has once again punched their ticket to the Caesars Superdome.
STM came into the 2023 season being the defending Division II – Select champs after beating the Lafayette Christian Academy Knights in the championship round. It was a back-and-forth affair with the Cougars coming out on top 52-48 with a last-minute touchdown on a 54-yard pass by quarterback Sam Altmann.
This year, head coach Jim Hightower and his Cougars squad have continued their win streak to this point, defeating the likes of Catholic-Baton Rouge, Teurling Catholic, and the Knights of LCA en route to a perfect 10-0 regular season record.
That record earned the Cougars the number one seed and a first-round bye in the Divison II – Select bracket. In the following weeks, St. Thomas More took a step forward as they beat Istrouma 57-14, skunked St. Michael the Archangel 49-0, and pummeled Archbishop Shaw in the semifinals 69-30.
“I think we’ve really made some progress,” Hightower said. “This team has made steady progress, but I told them weeks eight, nine, and 10 that we hadn’t quite gotten there. We weren’t playing championship ball. We were getting better, but we hadn’t gotten there and the last two weeks I think we’ve been playing championship ball.”
STM has been well-rounded all season as they have put up 642 points in 13 games (49.3 points per game) while the defense has shut out opponents on three separate occasions, including once in the playoffs.
The Cougars are led by a three-headed monster on the offensive side of the football. Star quarterback Sam Altmann made his return for his senior season, the running back room is highlighted by Hutch Swilley, and Landon Strother rounds it out as the team’s number-one wide receiver.
Hayden Hernandez and Peyton David have been key contributors on the defensive side of the football. In the second level, Hernandez has been locked in as the team’s primary linebacker. David, on the other hand, has lined up in numerous positions in the secondary and is now settled in at the safety position in 2023.
A factor in the Cougars’ success on both sides of the ball has been the senior leadership. Key players like Hernandez, David, and others have been a guiding light and have made this a tight-knit group as the team earned another trip to the dome.
Coach Hightower gave credit to his senior leadership on defense and mentioned that his defensive unit is “Looking forward to the challenge… we’re playing the all-time state leader in yardage and touchdowns and we know he’s explosive. We’ve seen too much of him but they are looking forward to the challenge.”
Now the Cougars get ready for a rematch with an Acadiana area foe. STM will duke it out with LCA in the Superdome for the second year in a row. The Knights earned their spot to play in the championship game last Friday when they took down the Teurlings Catholic Rebels 42-35.
As STM gets ready to face LCA, Hightower voiced that they “know each other pretty well so there won’t be many surprises. Hopefully the execution will step up and I think with that familiarity comes the opportunity to really be on top of your game. “
LCA is led by their first-year head coach Hunter Landry and star quarterback Ju’Juan Johnson. Johnson, an LSU commit, has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Knights as he’s passed for 3,327 yards and tossed 43 touchdowns while rushing for 1,297 yards and reaching the end zone 22 times this year. The Knights finished the regular season with an 8-2 record, then beat Peabody, McDonogh #35, and Teurlings in the playoffs.
In the week 10 matchup this season versus LCA, the Cougars were able to outlast Johnson and the Knights 44-40 on the road to secure the number one seed and a first-round bye in their tournament bracket.
Coach admitted that Johnson is a force and that “you don’t slow him down. You just try and limit as many big plays as you can and make the other people have to work.” Also, a big key is “getting people around him…make them earn what they get and we’re just going to have to match them. Our offense is going to have to do their job,” Hightower uttered.
Instead of playing at a normal 7:00 p.m. kickoff, the Cougars and Knights will wait until early Saturday afternoon to decide a winner. However, STM’s headman isn’t worried about the early start time.
Hightower touched on the 2022 state championship game. “We had that same kickoff last year and I was really concerned, really worried. But once you got in the Superdome, you didn’t know what time it was and our kids were ready to play. Once the ball was kicked off, it was a football game.”
This game between the St. Thomas More Cougars and Lafayette Christian Academy Knights will be played on Saturday, December 9th. Kickoff in the Caesars Superdome is set for noon. The pregame starts at 11:00 a.m. and all of the championship action will be heard on ESPN 103.7 Lafayette and the ESPN Southwest Louisiana mobile app.