De La Salle leans on 2016 experience to prepare for semifinal vs. STM

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NEW ORLEANS – It took St. Thomas More until two years ago to finally reach the LHSAA Prep Classic and until last year to hoist a state championship trophy in football.

Now, De La Salle wants to get in on that feeling.

The defending Division II state champion Cougars (11-1) and the top-seeded and unbeaten Cavaliers (10-0) face off Friday night at 7 at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium with a berth in the Dec. 8 title game at stake. The game will be broadcast live on Crescent City Sports.

A year ago, STM finally got their championship, defeating Parkview Baptist 54-29 for the Division II title. Parkview reached the final by knocking off De La Salle 34-14 in the semifinals at Joe Yenni Stadium.

Now, the Cavaliers are again one step away from their first state championship game appearance since 1961. And just like the experience of getting to the title game in 2015 no doubt helped Jim Hightower’s team a year ago, De La Salle coach Ryan Manale hopes the experience of last year’s semifinal plays a part in this year’s game.

“I think our kids know what to expect,” Manale said. “They know what kind of crowd, what kind of atmosphere and what kind of team we’re going to play.”

Added Cavaliers senior wide receiver Aaron Marquez, “I think we were the better team (against Parkview), but last year was the first team we really got punched in the mouth. I think we’re a lot more prepared this year.”

Manale has great respect for STM and Hightower, the second-winningest coach in Louisiana history with 407 victories and a 2016 inductee into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

“They’re good in all three phases and you see why they’ve been in the Dome the last two years,” Manale said.

STM, the No. 4 seed, eliminated fifth-seeded Parkview 31-29 in the quarterfinals last Friday in Lafayette, while De La Salle rolled past Archbishop Hannan 52-14 at Pan American Stadium.

The Cougar offense is led by sophomore quarterback Caleb Holstein, who has passed for 1,684 yards and 15 touchdowns. Running back Chris Primeaux has 1,199 yards and 15 TDs on the ground, while wide receiver Mason Pesson has 54 catches and eight touchdowns.

Cavalier quarterback Julien Gums has accounted for 2,063 total yards and 24 touchdowns – 12 rushing and 12 passing. Running back Kendall Collins has rushed for 901 yards and 15 scores.

De La Salle has been dominant all season, with only Class 4A top seed Edna Karr coming within 21 points of the Cavaliers. Four De La Salle opponents – Karr, Riverside Academy, St. James and St. Charles Catholic – are still alive in the postseason.

“So far, we’ve answered every challenge,” Manale said. “I hope it continues Friday night.”

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

Sales/Content/Production

Lenny has been involved in college athletics since the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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