St. Thomas More's postseason quest to play in the Superdome is sure to offer many trials, but on Friday night Jim Hightower's squad aced its first test, 56-7 over Warren Easton, with stingy defense and the golden arm of senior quarterback Brandon Bergeron.
Bergeron completed 19-of-25 passes for 250 yards and a single-game school record five touchdowns. He also surpassed the 3,000 yard mark for the season.
"The numbers are great," Bergeron said. "But it's even better to win a playoff game."
The Cougars took control early, forcing three turnovers in the first quarter. Lance Westphal snagged two interceptions in coverage from his middle linebacker position, while Alec Huval pounced on a loose ball deep in Eagle territory.
"The turnovers were really big," Hightower said. "They've got some athletes on that team, and they have the potential to score real fast. We didn't feel comfortable until right at the end."
Grant Dozier gashed the defense on a 53-yard run midway through the first, in which the senior juked his way through the Eagle secondary for the score. STM's turned Westphal's second interception and Huval's fumble recovery into two scoring strikes from Bergeron to Seth Kelley, and the Cougars led 21-0 early in the second quarter.
Hightower turned to his bag of tricks for the next STM score. Facing a fourth-and-16 from the Eagle 24, the Cougars showed field goal but Bergeron took the snap and delivered a quick pass to Kelley who was pushed out of bounds for the first down at the 1-yard line. On the next play, Bergeron hit a wide open Cameron Lochridge, extending the lead to 28.
After Kendall Johnson's end zone interception of Deshawn Capers-Smith, the Cougars drove 80 yards in five plays. Bergeron connected with Kelley from 17 yards out for the duo's third touchdown of the half, set up by a 42-yard catch and run from Jake Juneau. On the night, Kelley caught six balls for 95 yards, while Juneau added 131 yards on eight receptions.
"They packed nine in the box and we had man coverage all day," Bergeron said. "We just took advantage of it. We threw slants, quicks, we could run the ball. Everything was working."
The Eagles got a score with seconds to play before intermission on a 7-yard pass from Capers-Smith to Darrel Clark, giving STM a 35-6 lead at the break.
STM wasted little time adding to the scoreboard in the second half. The Cougars opened the quarter with a 70-yard drive, capped off by a 22-yard score from Bergeron to Juneau. The key play of the possession was a fake punt by STM, as upback Tre Chenevert took the snap and barreled around the end for 20 yards and a Cougar first down.
Fourth down proved to be a boon for the home team throughout the contest. After the defense forced a three-and-out, STM took advantage of Easton penalties and moved deep into Eagle territory. The drive appeared to stall, but Dozier bullied his way into the end zone on fourth and goal from the one-yard line, pushing the Cougar lead to 49-6.
"I had confidence in our guys being able to execute," Hightower said.
Suire added another STM score late in the fourth on a two-yard run, shortly after breaking fee for a 50-yard scamper.