Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic captures 1st PIAA title
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HERSHEY — Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic's storybook season came complete with a dramatic ending.
North Catholic's P.J. Fulmore pushed his way across the goal line for a winning 2-point conversion in Friday afternoon's 15-14 overtime victory over Old Forge in the PIAA Class A championship at Hersheypark Stadium.
The all-or-nothing decision of coach Bob Ravenstahl earned the resilient Trojans their first state football championship.
“Any competitor wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game,” said Fulmore, who rushed for 109 yards on 33 carries, with a 10-yard touchdown run in overtime. “To be on this stage at the state championship, there's nothing better.”
District 2 champion Old Forge (14-2) already scored an overtime touchdown and kicked the extra point to lead 14-7. But when Fulmore scored, the Trojans went for the win instead of a tie.
“There was no hesitation at all,” Ravenstahl said.
North Catholic (16-0) used this strategy before. The Trojans started their season by going for two to beat Apollo-Ridge in double overtime. This time, a state championship was on the line.
“I would have let my kids down if we didn't go for 2,” Ravenstahl said. “I just felt confident. I don't think they expected anything else.”
It was first the PIAA Class A championship decided in overtime.
The win completes a perfectly scripted season for a school in transition. North Catholic, which added Cardinal Wuerl to its name this year, will leave Troy Hill for a Cranberry campus next fall.
“I don't know if words can even express it,” Ravenstahl said. “It's just a great accomplishment.”
For a moment, Fulmore's progress slowed near the 1-yard line. But the 5-foot-8, 180-pound junior fought across the goal line.
“I knew it was close,” Fulmore said. “We just had to push through.”
It was the first time North Catholic led.
With 7:01 left, North Catholic's Jerome Turner caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Fulmore on fourth-and-4 to force a 7-7 tie.
The Trojans converted three fourth downs on the 86-yard touchdown drive, including a 12-yard catch by Fulmore on fourth-and-7. They escaped an earlier fourth-and-1 when Fulmore used a hard snap count to draw Old Forge's defense offside.
“It's all heart and determination,” Ravenstahl said. “That's what the kid has. He doesn't want to lose.”
Old Forge could have avoided overtime but missed a 29-yard field goal with 3.8 seconds left. Consecutive 5-yard runs by senior Brandon Yescavage scored its overtime touchdown.
Yescavage, a 2,600-yard rusher this season, had 69 yards on 22 carries. Shane Shuback added 63 yards rushing and 63 yards receiving on seven catches.
A 20-yard trick-play touchdown 28 seconds before halftime gave Old Forge a 7-0 lead. Shuback took a wildcat snap, handed off to quarterback Jake Manetti and then sprinted downfield to catch Manetti's pass.
Fulmore carried, caught or passed on 39 of North Catholic's 46 offensive plays. He hurt his back making a tackle with 21 seconds left. But Fulmore was ready for overtime.
“As soon as it started feeling a little bit better, I knew I was going right back in the game,” Fulmore said. “I couldn't sit out.”
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
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