The script for a perfect storybook ending was blown away by 67 second-half points and eight single-game records. Through it all, top-seeded University High persevered.
Cramps, fatigue and St. Thomas More took their toll, but did not prevent the Cubs from achieving their ultimate goal — a 55-46 victory in the Division II title game at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic on Friday.
“Obviously a great back-and-forth ballgame. Not the way we wanted to draw it up. Depth was obviously on their side,” U-High coach Chad Mahaffey said. “But our guys really battled. We had guys cramping up. It’s tough to run that many snaps. I’m proud of our guys here and the ones in the locker room.”
With the win, the Cubs (13-0) claimed their second straight Division II title and extended their winning streak to 26 games. The game was a 3-hour and 30-minute marathon at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that tested both teams as they combined to score 15 touchdowns.
The Cubs never trailed but got pushed to compile 607 yards on offense. The third-seeded Cougars (11-2) were persistent and finished with 603 total yards.
Running back Mike Hollins was consistent for U-High. The Virginia commitment ran for 240 yards on 27 carries and had four rushing TDs. He also caught a TD pass from John Gordon McKernan. The four rushing TDs tied a Division II/Class 3A record.
“We’re brothers. … We have been playing with each other since eighth grade with AAU basketball. The chemistry here is great,” Hollins said. “I’m giving my all … my last game with my brothers and I was not coming out. To end a season like this with my brothers is awesome.”
STM’s title-game MVP Grant Arceneaux caught 14 passes for 169 yards and one TD for the Cougars (11-2). He set a composite record for most passes caught in the title game. Cougars quarterback Caleb Holstein completed 38 of 58 passes for 410 yards, setting records for most attempts and completions. U-High took a 21-13 halftime lead. Hollins scored the last TD of the first half on a 3-yard run and then raced 55 yards for a score that opened the second half.
Those TDs gave the Cubs their largest lead of 15 points. The Cougars got within two points three times in the second half — once in the third quarter and twice in the fourth. U-High put the finishing touches on the win after Will Safford intercepted Holstein with 1:57 remaining.
“I thought we went about it as planned, except for the fact that we could not stop No. 7 (University running back Mike Hollins),” St. Thomas More coach Jim Hightower said. “He (Hollins) shredded our tackles and had lots of second, third and fourth efforts that put points on the board for U-High.”
Other records the teams shattered includes:
• Most pass attempts by two teams: 91
• Most first downs by two teams: 61
• Most total yards by two teams: 1,210
• Most total plays by two teams: 159
• Most penalties by two teams: 28
There were other notable numbers too. Will Cryer ran for 99 yards on 13 carries for STM. U-High’s McKernan completed 20 of 33 passes for 331 and 3 TDs. The Cubs’ Thomas Teepell caught four passes for 104 yards.
In the first half, both teams missed opportunities while U-High claimed a 21-13 lead. The score was tied once at 7 thanks to Holstein’s 12-yard TD pass to Dalen Cambre with 7:40 left in the first quarter.
Arceneaux caught a 14-yard TD pass from Holstein that got the Cougars within two points, at 35-33, with 1:03 remaining in the third quarter.
Hollins was the answer again — with a 1-yard touchdown 35 seconds later. That play was set up by a 62-yard pass from McKernan to Teepell.
STM’s final push came when Luke Howard caught a 9-yard TD pass from Howard at the 6:47 mark of the fourth quarter to make it 48-46. Hollins broke loose for a 46-yard gain, McKernan scored the final TD on a 1-yard run with 3:05 left.
“I think the thing I already knew was (U-High) did not panic,” Mahaffey said. “We give a lot of respect to (St. Thomas More)."