HERSHEY, Pa. -- With a small gash on the bridge of his nose and specks of blood dotted across the top of his white jersey, PJ Fulmore anxiously gazed at the small patch of turf in front of him.
For much of the game, this Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic junior had been battered, logging 32 carries against an unrelenting defense that forced him to claw for every yard. Not even five minutes earlier, he was helped off the field after his back was injured while playing defense.
But after all that, this converted quarterback was thrust into a dream scenario -- gain 3 yards and make history.
North Catholic 15, Old Forge 14
North Catholic defeats Old Forge to win the PIAA State Championship game at Hersheypark Stadium. (Video by Andrew Rush; 12/13/2013)
With his team trailing in overtime, Fulmore had a 10-yard touchdown run and followed it with a successful 2-point conversion, two plays that lifted North Catholic to a 15-14 victory against Old Forge in the PIAA Class A championship Friday at Hersheypark Stadium.
The win gave the Trojans (16-0) an undefeated season and the school's first PIAA football championship.
In what he described as a "storybook ending," Fulmore played the role of hero, rushing for a game-high 109 yards. And, when his team needed him the most, he delivered.
"Any competitor wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game and to be on this stage in the state championship, there's nothing better," Fulmore said.
The game Friday marked the first time that a PIAA Class A championship went to overtime.
After regulation ended with the score tied, Old Forge scored on its first drive with a 5-yard touchdown run from Brandon Yescavage that gave the Blue Devils (14-2) a 14-7 lead.
On the next play, Fulmore burst through the defense almost untouched for a 10-yard touchdown run (overtime possessions begin at the opposing 10).
Burdened with what many would consider a difficult decision -- going for the win with a 2-point conversion or playing it safe with an extra point -- North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl felt he had no choice.
More than three months earlier, in the Trojans' opener against Apollo-Ridge, he also went for it, giving his team a 22-21 win.
In arguably the biggest moment in the school's football history, the longtime coach had no hesitation.
"I think I would have let my kids down if I didn't go for 2," Ravenstahl said. "I just felt confident and I don't think they expected anything else."
As it turned out, Fulmore was met at the 1 by an Old Forge defender, briefly giving the impression he would be stopped short. But he kept his legs churning, and, as he neared the goal line, he extended the ball across the plane.
The 2-point conversion proved to be a dramatic and euphoric ending to what was for quite awhile a mostly uneventful game. The Blue Devils held a 7-0 lead early in the fourth quarter, but North Catholic got a 16-yard touchdown run from Jerome Turner with 7:01 remaining, a score that capped a 17-play, 86-yard drive that lasted nearly nine minutes and included three fourth-down conversions.
Old Forge had a 29-yard field goal attempt with less than 10 seconds remaining to win the game, but the kick fell well short.
In a game featuring two stingy defenses, the Trojans and Blue Devils largely struggled to move the ball, combining for 364 yards and only three trips inside the opponents' 20 in regulation.
Even though its first lead didn't come until the game was over, North Catholic never was fazed.
"There were a few times throughout the game that I got a little angry, but we faced so much adversity through the season that I just knew we were going to come back and win this game," Fulmore said.
The win itself was unique just because of how it ended, but, even for an experienced leader such as Ravenstahl, those 3 yards were hard to explain.
"I don't know if words can even express it," he said. "It's just a great accomplishment. I give the kids all the credit in the world. They worked hard to get there, and hard work pays off."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG. First Published December 13, 2013 3:41 PM