The first 12 minutes of Friday’s season opener at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium was all Holy Cross as the Tigers forced a pair of turnovers and put the first touchdown of the game on the board.
The last three quarters belonged to St. Thomas More, though, as the Cougars scored 28 unanswered points including a 62-yard pick-6 by junior Joshua Stevenson in the final seconds to seal a 28-7 victory for last year’s Division II runner-up.
“It was a war both ways,” St. Thomas More coach Jim Hightower said. “I think our defense made a couple of stops down there on the goal line (which) was probably the biggest difference.”
Holy Cross made two trips inside the Cougars’ 10-yard line in the fourth quarter, but came away empty-handed on both trips.
The Tigers’ first venture into scoring territory came early in the fourth quarter after a 10-play drive covered 62 yards getting them down to the 7-yard line. Facing 4th-and-3 on the first play of the fourth quarter down 21-7, Holy Cross tried to take to the air. Quarterback John Dade Wooton couldn’t find an open target, though, and a scramble came up a yard short giving possession back to St. Thomas More.
The Cougars hoped to keep the clock rolling on their ensuing drive going for it on fourth down just across midfield, but couldn’t convert on a throw near the sideline.
Holy Cross needed just three plays from their own 44-yard line to get back into the redzone this time and eventually faced fourth-and-goal from the Cougars’ 2-yard line. There was a brief conference among the officials which likely centered around whether it was third or fourth down as it appeared the Tigers had only run two plays since picking up a first down, but they eventually determined it was in fact fourth down.
Holy Cross brought its heavy package onto the field, but it appeared there may have been some miscommunication on the play as Jalen Johnson came in at quarterback and was dropped for a 13-yard loss after reversing his field trying to avoid multiple defenders.
“You try not to lose games (yourself), and I can’t say right now that that’s what happened,” Holy Cross coach Guy LeCompte said. “I think we gave up some points, (though), when we didn’t punch it in when we got inside the (10-yard line) twice, and that last score (on the pick-6) made the game a little more lopsided than I think that it was.”
St. Thomas More had the upper-hand in terms of offensive production putting up 370 yards to Holy Cross’ 258. The Tigers, however, won the turnover battle, 4-2, but could only turn one of their 11 possessions into points.
Holy Cross’ lone score came on its second drive of the game, which was set up by a 43-yard interception return by junior linebacker Aiden Patcheco down to St. Thomas More’s 27-yard line. Wooton and senior receiver Alondre Wells hooked up for a key 26-yard pickup on third down, and Jaden Handy powered his way in from three yards out on the next play giving the Tigers a 7-0 advantage with 1:19 to go in the opening quarter.
The Tiger defense then made another huge play after a short punt coupled with a penalty gave the Cougars possession at Holy Cross’ 13-yard line early in the second.
St. Thomas More got a bit closer with a short run on first down, but was intercepted by Louisiana Tech linebacker commitment Tyler Grubbs in the end zone. It was the second forced turnover of the night for Grubbs, who also forced a fumble on the opening drive of the game that was recovered by sophomore defensive back Xavier Glaude at Holy Cross’ 8-yard line.
“Our defense played really well against a very good offense,” said LeCompte, whose defense had another interception on a Hail Mary pass to end the first half by Kolbe Cage. “We had three turnovers that we didn’t capitalize on offensively.”
St. Thomas More finally got on the board a bit over midway through the second quarter after Beau Moncla blocked and recovered a punt at Holy Cross’ 33-yard line. Harvard quarterback commitment Caleb Holstein hit Jack Bech for a 31-yard gain on the first play of the drive, and Noah Frederick scored from two yards out on the next play tying the game at 7-7 with 5:18 to go until halftime.
The Cougars kept the momentum in their favor when Dominic Zepherin intercepted a pass setting up St. Thomas More at their own 47. They covered 53 yards in nine plays with Wooton ending the drive with a 4-yard pass to Bech putting the Cougars ahead 14-7 with 1:26 remaining until halftime.
The Lafayette squad’s last offensive touchdown came on its second possession of the third quarter after two punts by Holy Cross and one by St. Thomas More. The Cougars marched 90 yards in 11 plays with Holstein finishing off the drive with a 10-yard completion to senior receiver Jean-luc Lemoine for a 21-7 lead with 3:45 to until the end of the third period.
St. Thomas More’s defense did the job from there with a couple of key red zone stops as the Cougars held off Holy Cross to move to 1-0 on the season.
“I thought all-around we had a great game,” Holstein said. “We battled all game and our defense played amazing tonight and was a big factor in our win.”
St. Thomas More: 370 yards of total offense (120 rushing, 250 passing)
Holy Cross: 258 yards of total offense (7 rushing, 251 passing)
St. Thomas More
Rushing: Tobin Thevenot, 12-77; Noah Frederick, 8-47, 1 TD; Caleb Holstein, 1-(-4).
Receiving: Jack Bech, 9-92, 1 TD; Patrick Robichaux, 3-45; Payton Breaux, 5-40; Carter Arceneaux, 5-38; Jean-luc Lemoine, 3-20; Paxton Perret, 1-14; Evan Comeaux, 1-2; Noah Frederick, 1-(-1).
Passing: Caleb Holstein, 28-43, 250 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs; Walker Howard, 0-1, 0 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT.
Rushing: Amiri Franklin, 2-28; Jaden Handy, 9-6, 1 TD; Celven Hulbert, 5-2; Jalen Johnson, 6-(-11); John Dade Wooton, 6-(-18),
Receiving: Tyler Kirkwood, 7-155; Alondre Wells, 3-53; Jaden Handy, 3-38; Celven Hulbert, 2-20; Christian Calamari, 3-14; Jalen Johnson, 1-11.
Passing: John Dade Wooton, 19-32, 251 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs.
Holy Cross — Jaden Handy 3 run (Eli Lafrance kick),1:19 , 0-7.
St. Thomas More — Noah Frederick 2 run (Patrick Robichaux kick), 5:18, 7-7.
St. Thomas More — Luke Bech 4 pass from Caleb Holstein (Robichaux kick), 1:26, 14-7.
St. Thomas More — Jean-luc Lemoine 10 pass from Caleb Holstein (Robichaux kick), 3:45, 21-7.
St. Thomas More — Joshua Stevenson 62 interception return (Robichaux kick), 0:02, 28-7.
NEXT UP: Holy Cross travels to Covington in Week 2 while St. Thomas More hosts Barbe. Both matchups will be played Friday at 7 p.m.