Jim Hightower allowed himself to enjoy the victory, but only for a brief amount of time.
The longtime St. Thomas More football coach relaxed enough to celebrate his team’s 28-21 victory over crosstown rival Teurlings Catholic last Friday night in the state semifinals. With the win, the Cougars earned their first trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic.
“I enjoyed it for a couple of hours,” Hightower said. “But then I had to get ready and start breaking down the film. There will be plenty of time to think about what we have accomplished this season after Friday night.”
STM (10-2) takes on 2014 state runner-up Parkview Baptist (9-3) in the Division II state championship game. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday.
Hightower has accomplished plenty in his time as Cougars coach as he has guided STM to 28 straight playoff appearances since 1988, claimed 14 district championships, nine state semifinal appearances and now has a chance to bring home the school’s first state championship in football.
That final tidbit served as an additional motivation for his players before last week’s semifinal contest.
“When we lined up against Teurlings Catholic for the second time, we knew we had to get it done for him, more so than for ourselves,” senior defensive end Christian Leonard said. “This playoff run and the game on Friday is all about coach.”
For the Cougars to get that victory they will have to find a way to stop, or at least slow down, Parkview Baptist’s sensational dual-threat quarterback Reggie Hayes Jr. The senior and three-year starter leads the Eagles with 1,321 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns while also having 418 passing yards with six passing touchdowns.
“They are very scary and very good on offense,” Hightower said. “Reggie does a great job of running that offense. We actually played against his father back in 1990.
“They are going to try to run the ball and control the clock. When that happens, that clock runs real fast. That is the challenge for us.”
Added Leonard, “We feel like they are going to try to run it down our throats. It is difficult to stop for sure but coach (Terry) Tidwell will have us in position to stop it.”
STM hasn’t played against many option or double-wing offenses, like the one Parkview Baptist utilizes. The closest comparison would be Plaquemine who STM edged 35-34 in nondistrict competition.
“That offense we don’t see it a lot,” senior defensive end Aaron Monrose said. “They are aggressive, so that means we have to be just as aggressive.”
Hightower, who will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame next summer, has coached on this big stage before. He led Catholic Pointe-Coupee to the Class 1A championship back in 1978. Hightower who has 389 career wins under his belt, second in the state’s history only to J.T. Curtis, is confident that his group of Cougars are ready to line up on the artificial turf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“I feel that we have a mature team,” said Hightower, who played football and baseball at Cal-Davis. “We have seen large stadiums before. We have played in Independence Bowl in Shreveport. This group of kids know that it is still a football game.”
“Our preparation is always good,” Monrose added. “We start every Saturday morning with film study and start focusing on the next opponent. I feel that we are going to be ready to go on Friday.”
Parkview Baptist’s second-year coach Jay Mayet expects to face a prepared STM team.
“They’re extremely well coached, they don’t take plays off and they don’t loaf,” said Mayet, who served as an assistant on the Eagles four title teams. “I don’t mind going against a team with talent that doesn’t play hard. I’d much rather go against a team like that instead of one like this that has good solid football players who are well-coached.”
As for STM, the Cougars believe that this season not only will be remembered as the one when the program finally broke through to the title game, but the one where STM was crowned state champion.
“We knew since day one of our freshmen year that we were a talented group of players,” Monrose said. “We now have the opportunity to achieve our goal. It has all come together.”
“This team has shown grit this entire year,” Hightower said. “The one thing that really stands out for me is how well we were practicing in late October and November. This team just kept getting better.”