Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic's running offensive standout, P.J. Fulmore, knew a lot would be expected of him when he became the team's quarterback in the eighth week of the regular season.
On Friday night, the 5-foot-8, 180-pound junior single-handedly carried the Trojans to a 14-7 victory against Eastern Conference rival Avonworth in the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals at Hampton High School's Fridley Field.
It was the second time the Trojans earned a come-from-behind victory against Avonworth. In the sixth week of the season, North Catholic defeated the Antelopes, 21-12.
The Trojans are 11-0. Avonworth finished the season 9-2.
"That was a classic North Catholic-Avonworth game," Trojans' coach Bob Ravenstahl said of Friday's contest. "[Fulmore] is the real deal. He's a heck of a competitor. He doesn't like to lose, and I had a gut feeling he was going to have a big game, and he did."
With the Trojans primarily forced to run the wildcat after Adam Sharlow injured his knee in a 21-14 victory against Neshannock in the eighth week of the season, Fulmore stepped up his game immensely.
"It's a lot of pressure because Adam is one of the best quarterbacks in the WPIAL," Fulmore said. "But he helped me out with everything [after Sharlow was injured]. He and [assistant coach Chris Lucas] taught me a lot."
The Trojans defense was particularly strong, holding the Antelopes to just 48 rushing yards on 27 attempts.
The Trojans will face Neshannock in the Class A semifinals on Friday.
Fulmore carried the ball 37 times for 175 yards and completed six of 12 passes for 107 yards. He accounted for both of his team's touchdowns, the first coming on the Trojans' first series of the game when he threw a high, arching pass that Ryan Kirby secured for a 46-yard touchdown with 9:33 left in the first quarter.
With his team trailing 7-6 in the fourth quarter, Fulmore capped an 11-play drive with a 1-yard run with 4:03 left in the game. Fulmore then called his own number on the 2-point conversion to give the Trojans a seven-point lead.
Two key plays in the drive came from Fulmore. The first was an arching 40-yard pass to Kirby that came on a 3rd-and-8 from the Trojans 24-yard line. The second was a 12-yard pass to running back Jerome Turner that put the ball at the Antelopes 1-yard line with less than five minutes left in the game.
"He just threw one up in the air over the lights," Avonworth coach Duke Johncour said.
The drive-preserving reception was similar to the one Fulmore threw to Kirby for the game's first score. "It was back-breaking. Those two pass plays really hurt," Johncour said.
Coming from behind is nothing new for the Trojans, and Fulmore said the situation wasn't unfamiliar to him.
"[Coach Lucas] tells us every practice that we're going to face adversity," Fulmore said. "I think we've faced more adversity than any team in Single-A."
One such situation started to develop in the third quarter. With his team clinging to its initial six-point lead, Fulmore threw an interception that Avonworth linebacker Andrew Broadus returned 12 yards to the North Catholic 37. But Fulmore and his teammates got a reprieve when junior linebacker Brennan Sefick intercepted a Matt Donovan pass in the end zone and brought it back to the 16 with 59 seconds left in the third quarter.
But Avonworth struck back as Donovan, who completed 13 of 23 of his passes for 119 yards, led his team down the field on a nine-play, 48-yard drive that culminated with a 25-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Jamal Hughley with 8:40 left in the fourth quarter.
Place-kicker Cole Pappas' extra-point kick gave the Antelopes the lead until Fulmore's last-drive heroics.