I never saw Cathedral-Carmel play a football game.
So my first memory of St. Thomas More football or its predecessor, for that matter, was the final game of the Cougars’ first season in 1982.
The Cougars had won five games that first year and were taking on Teurlings Catholic in the regular-season finale at Clark Field.
Cathedral had enjoyed great success against Teurlings over the years and much of STM’s first coaching staff had Cathedral roots.
But this wasn’t your normal Teurlings squad. The Rebels hadn’t allowed a single point all season long. It went down to the final minutes of the game and the Cougars had it in the shadow of the goal line on fourth down, trailing 25-0.
Instead of ending the Rebels’ scoreless streak with a field goal, coach Jacob Byler went for it and Teurlings’ defense held.
In other words, my first impression is that the Cougars did the right thing and it just didn’t work out.
My next memory came in 1986. Jim Hightower had just taken over as STM’s new coach and ironically Bobby Green was beginning his career at Lafayette High that same night. Yes, the same Bobby Green who was the head coach at Teurlings in that infamous 1982 finale.
Lafayette High won that game 21-15 for the first of five losses to open the Hightower era.
The Cougars, though, won the final five games that season … and really haven’t stopped winning since.
The first winning season came in 1987 and the first state playoff appearance the following season behind the strength such stars as Hunter Golden, Buck and Spook Moncla and Steven Mocek.
After that break-even first season, Hightower has led the Cougars to 27 consecutive winning seasons. (On the field, that is, due to having to forfeit five wins in 2008.)
It didn’t take very long for STM to establish an identity as an exciting offensive team under Leland Padgett’s direction with such stars as Jamie Howard, Jamie Holmes, Danny Lasseigne and Darren Strother. That group brought STM to the brink for the first time, before losing to Mansfield in the state semifinals at Cajun Field to end that 1991 season.
No one could have known then exactly how many times STM would return to the semifinal level and how many times they would fall just short. Six times in all, the Cougars have lost in the semifinals in the Hightower era.
Obviously, that’s hard to swallow for the longtime Cougar fans, but it really has never diminished my respect for the job that staff has done year after year.
As time went on, the offensive explosiveness came and went, while the defense began making tossing shutouts commonplace. And the kicking game always seems to be better than most.
To be approaching three straight decades of winning season after winning season is just impressive, state title or not state title. Some of those years, the Cougars were very talented, but in some, they weren’t. That has never mattered to Hightower and defensive guru Terry Tidwell. They always seem to find a way to spit out a winner.
The thing that I really fine unique about the Cougars is how many rivals they’ve had over the years. While Breaux Bridge has been the most long-lasting one, it certainly hasn’t always produced the best game.
My personal favorite was the rivalry with Crowley High. The Cougars and Gents played every year from 1983 to 2000. The Gents ruled the roost in the mid to late-1980s with a few blowout wins, before STM responded with 11 straight wins to end the series.
If it’s possible for an 11-game win streak to deceiving, though, this one was. The Cougars won every year, but there wasn’t much dominating going on. It might just be one of the best rivalries in terms highly competitive games over a 10-year period that this area’s ever seen.
The Cougars won 14-13 in 1990, 27-24 in 1991, 8-7 in 1992, 35-33 in 1995, 34-28 in 1996, 38-33 in 1997 and then 33-26 STM in 1998. Just great games.
Many of those meetings squared off what history may say are the two best coaches in the history of the area in Hightower and Lewis Cook.
But in addition to Crowley and Breaux Bridge, there was a nice little series with Cecilia in the early 1990s and then began a long-lasting series with Sulphur in 2001 that lasts until today. And oh yeah, now STM and Teurlings are in the same district.
Probably the most memorable game of all, though, was a 28-22 double overtime loss to crosstown rival in the 2004 state semifinals. That was amazingly followed the next year by a 19-17 heartbreaker at Bastrop in 2005. Bastrop destroyed every other playoff team that postseason, but was one play away of falling to the Cougars at home.
Looking back, that might have been one play away from a state title.
That ultimate goal continues in 2014. Once again, the Cougars should be very good again with Will Bellamy back at quarterback with Tiger Bech as one of his top targets. Defensively, five starters return and we’ve all seen Tidwell work wonders with much less than that.
• Sports editor Kevin Foote has been covering high school football in the Acadiana area for the past 31 years. This is the fifth in a series of stories as we count down the days to the start of the 2014 high school football season that will review his memories of covering the area’s programs through the years.
• To see other photos from St. Thomas More picture days of the past, see theadvertiser.com.