by Jerit Roser // Contributor

St. Thomas More’s elite consistency once again trumped both rival Lafayette Christian and the old football adage that asserts “it’s hard to beat the same team twice.”

The Cougars overcame a two-touchdown deficit to top the Knights, 35-21, in the Division-II Select state championship game, making both a fourth win in the series in just two seasons and a fourth title in the past five years.

“I’m really proud of this group of senior leaders that we had on this team,” coach Jim Hightower said. “They showed such high character throughout the season. It started the first day of practice. They came with some, lofty goals, and then they went to work every day to make them come real. We had several players that had this experience last year, and I think they were determined to get back and do it again. I’m super proud of ‘em — 14-0, I don’t think we even dreamed that against the schedule we played, and they just kept finding a way. So I’m just really proud of this group.”

St. Thomas More finished the season as one of the state’s three undefeated champions and extended its active winning streak to 24 games, easily Louisiana’s longest with Calvary Baptist and Ruston closest at 14.

“The players knew where we were gonna go at the beginning of the season,” senior linebacker Brody Latiolais said. “We knew what we wanted our end goal to be. And during practice we just pushed a little extra, pushed a little harder and it worked out for us.”

The Cougars said they felt doubted each of the past two years after graduating key leaders and playmakers. 

Senior quarterback Sam Altmann, who succeeded then-LSU signee Walker Howard at the helm, has now become the first St. Thomas More quarterback to lead multiple championship runs.

“Nobody thought we’d be here,” he said. “We all knew what we could do. It’s just we had to go prove it to everybody, and I think that the doubt from everybody on the outside was a little bit of extra fuel. And that motivated us all through the offseason, like every ‘Throw-up Thursday,’ every workout, just to keep going and keep pushing because we knew where we wanted to be. And we achieved it.”

Altmann and his teammates felt the additional motivation throughout the year because of external doubts show up in very tangible ways as the Cougars overcame on-field adversity and mounted their comeback.

Latiolais intercepted a pass in the final seconds of the second quarter and out-ran the Lafayette Christian offense 80 yards to the end zone to help tie the game at 14-14 heading into halftime.

“As soon as I was running, I mean, I was tired, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “It’s just from the ‘Throw-up Thursdays’ and all the training that we’ve had, it’s just a new mode unlocks and then it’s just go-to and you just don’t stop moving your feet. And I mean it worked out.”

John Luke St. Pierre earned Outstanding Player honors with 72 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, alongside Hutch Swilley’s 91 yards and a score.

The senior running backs carried doubts as chips on their shoulders to help drive their physical styles on the field. 

“We made an agreement at the beginning of the year,” St. Pierre said. “We said our mentality while we’re running is that nobody’s gonna bring us down and we’re always gonna fall forward, and it paid off.”

Hightower chimed in: “That pretty much describes the way they run.”

The end result was a championship repeat and No. 4 in five years.

Only Oak Grove, in Division-IV Non-Select, has matched that five-year run.

Catholic (Baton Rouge) is the only other program to have won three title games in that span, although the Bears were ruled to vacate their 2020 win.

And Acadiana, Many, Ouachita Christian and, coincidentally, Lafayette Christian mark the only others to have two championships in the past five years.

“Four out of five, they don’t get credit for all of those, but the last 24 they get credit for, this senior class,” Hightower said. “Again, they were a spectacular class. And the funny thing was there wasn’t one selfish player in that group. Nobody was thinking, ‘Me, me, me, me.’ Everything we ever did was about the team and how could we help the group succeed. Very unselfish players. Our wide receivers, they enjoyed blocking as much as they enjoyed catching. The linemen did a great job. Just the kind of team you dream about having. This was a dream team.”