Avonworth football coach Duke Johncour and his Antelopes knew what to expect when they met Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in the WPIAL Class A football quarterfinals last Friday night at Hampton High School's Fridley Field.
Now Neshannock's Fred Mozzocio and his 9-2 Lancers will have the same concern as they prepare for a semifinal game against the Trojans at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mars Area High School. In a non-conference game on Oct. 18, North Catholic held off Neshannock's charge for a 21-14 win.
Knowing about the Trojans' dynamic P.J. Fulmore is one thing. Stopping him? Well, that's become quite an issue for Trojans opponents since this 5-foot-8, 180-pound junior returned from a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for four games this season.
"He's a great athlete," said Johncour, moments after his Antelopes fell to the Trojans, 14-7. "We kept him contained, and he didn't break [a big run]"
What would stand out for many -- and rightfully so -- was the 175 rushing yards Fulmore picked up on 37 attempts out of the wildcat offense against the Antelopes.
"He ran the ball 37 times, and they ran the same play on about 25 of them," Johncour pointed out. "He was their one-man show."
Those types of numbers have been a big part of this South Side resident's arsenal since he joined the North Catholic backfield as a freshman. Despite the games he missed this season, he has rushed for 620 yards on 116 attempts this season. That's an average of just under 5.4 yards per rush.
Fulmore's running ability is well-known. But what stood out to Johncour was Fulmore's passing prowess as he completed 6 of 12 for 107 yards. His 46-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Kirby gave the Trojans a 6-0 lead they would hold until the fourth quarter. Then, after the Antelopes took a 7-6 lead with 8:40 left in the fourth quarter on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Matthew Donovan to Jamal Hughley, Fulmore's arm was once again a factor.
"That last [North Catholic] drive was 75-80 yards," Johncour said. "That was a heck of a drive. He made a couple of big plays."
There were none bigger, in Johncour's estimation, than the play that took place with the Trojans facing a third-and-8 at their 24 with fewer than eight minutes remaining in the game and the Antelopes clinging to a one-point lead.
Fulmore got just enough time to loft a high, arching 40-yard pass to Kirby that was similar to the 46-yard touchdown pass he and Kirby connected on earlier. The fourth-quarter pass advanced the ball from the North Catholic 24 to the Avonworth 36.
Later in the drive, he connected on a 12-yard pass to fellow running back Jerome Turner that put the ball at the Antelopes' 1. Fulmore bulled over for the go-ahead score, and then called his own number on a 2-point conversion run that gave the Trojans a 14-7 lead with 4:03 left in the game.
"That pass [from Fulmore to Kirby] was up over the lights," Johncour said. "It was back-breaking and that shifted the momentum. It was third-and-8. If we make a stop there, the game's over. He just threw it up in the air, and [Kirby] came down with it."
Fulmore's evolution from stellar running back to all-around threat doesn't surprise Trojans coach Bob Ravenstahl.
"He's the real deal and is a heck of a competitor," Ravenstahl said. "He doesn't like to lose, and I had a gut feeling he was going to have a big game [last Friday night]."
He's also not surprised with his team's resilience.
"We've got a lot of kids playing hurt," he said. "They just keep coming to practice and keep playing."
Even athletes who aren't able to play are making a huge contribution. Fulmore said Adam Sharlow, the starting quarterback who sustained a knee injury in the team's 21-14 victory against Neshannock in the eighth week of the season, has been a huge factor in his development at quarterback.
"Adam is one of the best quarterbacks in the WPIAL in my opinion," Fulmore said. "It was nice having him [to talk with] because he helped me out with learning the stuff I needed to know [about playing quarterback.] He helped me out so much learning the offense as a quarterback from reads and throwing the ball."
Several more study sessions with Sharlow would be just fine with Fulmore.