It was a legendary year for the STM Cougars, but their dreams of hoisting the state championship were crushed in the final minutes against Parkview.

In a game that totaled 851 yards of total offense, STM was crippled by four turnovers that came at devastating moments in the game. It looked like the Cougars took the 14-7 lead at the 4:52 mark of the first quarter, but after a long meeting the officials ruled it a fumble and Parkview ball. The Cougars fumbled it again in the game, but that takeaway for Parkway felt more like a takeaway by the refs.

Despite the touchdown that never happend, STM took a 14-10 lead into halftime. Even after Parkview scored to take the 17-14 lead in the third quarter, Will Bellamy and the Cougar offense responded with a score of their own to reclaim the lead, 21-17, with 3:46 left to play...all they needed was a stop.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, Parkview dug deep. With their backs against the wall, they went 91 yards in eight plays, capped off by a 47 yard TD pass to Jacob Ruffin. It sucked all the life out of a vibrant STM sideline, and it silenced a massive crowd of Cougar supporters.

It still wasn't over. STM still had 1:44 on the clock.

Bellamy started off their possible comeback drive with a few completions, but then the Parkview defense made a read, broke on the ball and came up with an interception to ice the game.Game over, 24-21 Parkview.

Give credit to Parkview's coaching staff. They found a way to contain an explosive offense, and Head Coach Jay Mayet said it was all about taking Trevor Begue (4 catches for only 25 yards) away from Bellamy in the passing game.

"We felt like taking away the middle from him was huge," Mayet said after the game.

Parkview bracketed Begue the entire game, and it forces Hightower to change his plan of attack. Bellamy still put up some decent numbers (20-33, 286 yards, 1 INT), but the interception at the end looms large over the outcome. With Bellamy's prime target taken away, it led to a heavy dose of running back Evan Trahan (22 rush, 131 yards, 2 TD's), who ended up still being tagged the Most Outstanding Player of the game, even with the loss.

It's hard to watch a team experience the highest of highs (taking the lead in their first state championship game with less than 4:00 to play), immediately followed by a devastating low (watching their state championship get ripped away at the end). Thankfully, Bellamy and the rest of the players have their heads firmly planted on their shoulders.

This game was the biggest of their careers, but it's not the rest of their lives.

"As seniors, we built a brotherhood," Bellamy said after the final game of his football career.

Now that we discussed the outcome, can we put this season in perspective?

This senior class brought Jim Hightower to the Superdome for the first time in his career. They defeated their bitter rival, Teurlings Catholic, in the semifinals to bring a level of excitement to their program that previously had never been reached. If it weren't for a play here or there, they would be bringing a championship back to Lafayette. Just because they're coming back "empty handed" doesn't mean they shouldn't be welcomed back with open arms.

"State Runner Up," doesn't sound sexy, but try to appreciate it. The Cougars came within a couple points of being named the best team in the state in their division. Is it so bad to be better than everybody else in the state but barely lose in the end? I believe the season STM had is reason for celebration, and so does Coach Hightower.

Hightower's seen a lot of football and coached a lot of men. He will never forget this bunch.

"This is probably the best group of men I've coached in 41 years," Hightower said before resting his arms on his players' broad shoulders.

With his arms draped around his players, Hightower told all the folks with cameras and microphones he was proud of his men. They weren't just words for the media. He meant it.

It will take a while for the men on this team to forget the feeling of pain they experienced in the Dome...but eventually it will fade, and they will be left with all the memories. Most of them, happy.

They will remember the time spent with their buddies. They will remember defying the odds and reaching the state finals for the first time. They'll remember all the bus rides, hangout sessions and bro downs...and the loss to Parkview will eventually fade.

When the Cougars come back to Lafayette, they should be greeted as champions. They don't need a trophy to prove their worth to the folks back home. We're all proud already.