St. Thomas More defense end Blake Champagne (63) along with the defense celebrate a fourth-down stop during the Cougars' 52-21 win over St. Louis on Friday. 

No, this is not the same De La Salle team that St. Thomas More played two years ago in the Division II semifinals at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium.

The DLS team that held off the Cougars’ second-half comeback to win 28-14 and advance to the state finals for the first time since 1961 was driven by a backfield tandem now playing college football.

Former DLS quarterback Julien Gums is starring for Nicholls State, having broken the school’s season rushing record in Saturday’s FCS playoff win against North Dakota. Former Cavs running back Kendall Collins is now a freshman at Southeastern, which also won their first FCS playoff game.

Those are two of a handful of DLS players that signed college scholarships over the past two years.

But when STM offensive coordinator Shane Savoie turns on the tape of this year's No. 2 Cavs, whom the No. 1 Cougars will host for the Division II championship at 7 p.m. Friday at Cougar Stadium, he notices plenty of similarities.

The faces are different at certain positions, but the way DLS operates and executes on both sides of the ball is the same. It reminds Savoie of his own team.

“Their scheme is so well-coached,” he said. “There’s different bodies plugged into it, but, man, it’s almost like you can look back to two years and see some of the same stuff that’s going on.

“I would hope they’d say the same thing about us. I would hope that they would comment that it’s different numbers and it’s different kids, and, sure, there’s some more talent in this spot or that spot. But for the most part, it’s just how we coach and how the kids are taught to do the things they do.”

DLS (8-3) went 3-3 on the field against a challenging non-district schedule — Warren Easton was forced to forfeit its season-opening win against the Cavs — but it has been a roll since then. During District 11-3A play, DLS outscored league foes 142-0. After a first-round bye in the playoffs, the Cavs hammered Teurlings Catholic 45-19 in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, DLS outlasted University High 17-14 with a 19-yard field goal by Iany Helmcke as time expired.

Like they did two years ago, the Cavs lean on their ground attack. DLS tailback Montrell Johnson has run for 406 yards and five touchdowns on 48 carries through two playoff games, including 230 yards against the Cubs.

“If you watch their game against U-High, they controlled the game,” Savoie said.

And now comes the rematch with the Cougars, who, like DLS, are playing their best ball at the right time. After rare back-to-back losses in October, STM has also won six straight games, winning every game by at least two scores in that stretch.

In a state championship game, the motivation for each team is evident. But for the Cougars, the opportunity to avenge the loss from two years ago doesn’t hurt. It’s the only year in the past five that STM didn’t reach the state finals.

Behind two STM turnovers, the Cavs jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead before the Cougars’ defense stiffened up in the second half. STM had a few chances to tie the game, but Gums’ 35-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter effectively iced the game. The Cougars were playing without leading rusher Chris Primeaux for much of that contest because of an injury.

“We had our chances,” Savoie said. “I’m not sure we played our best, but they were good. You look at them two years ago, I think it was a very even matchup. I think they were able to play to their strengths. They were able to get the game to flow to their strength, which is slowing the clock down, controlling the ball, being able to run the ball. We were not able to push the tempo, and the game kind of swayed over to their side. I think that was the gist of their ability to win the game.”

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