HERSHEY - They could have sworn they had the path to the end zone blocked.
Two Old Forge Blue Devils made the first contact. Three more took their best shot.
But it may have taken the whole town of Old Forge to stop P.J. Fulmore from charging to a state championship Friday.
Fulmore followed his overtime touchdown run by somehow wriggling through the Old Forge defense to score a two-point conversion - barely - on a quarterback keeper that lifted Pittsburgh’s Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic to the PIAA Class A title with a dramatic 15-14 win over the crushed Blue Devils at Hersheypark Stadium.
“He’s got more heart than anybody I’ve ever coached,” North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl said of his star quarterback.
The Blue Devils simply had their hearts broken.
“It (stinks),” Old Forge star Shane Schuback said.
Schuback fell to his knees, quarterback/safety Jake Manetti buckled in stunned disbelief and the rest of the Blue Devils shared similar reactions of gut-wrenching grief.
Their dream of accomplishing the school’s first state football championship ended just short, because Fulmer wouldn’t stop shy of a goal line he crossed by mere inches.
“Two of my kids said they had him on the ground,” said Old Forge coach Mike Schuback, Shane’s father. “It’s just, he flails around a lot.”
For most of the game, 16-0 North Catholic appeared to be flailing helplessly.
Fulmore, who carried 33 of the Trojans’ 40 rushing plays on quarterback draws, gained a game-high 109 yards. But it didn’t produce points for North Catholic until midway through the fourth quarter.
By then, the 14-2 Blue Devils seemed to have the upper hand.
They outgained North Catholic, 219-145 and accomplished 12 first downs to the Trojans’ 9.
And in a tremendous defensive battle, the Old Forge offense cracked the scoreboard first with a 39-yard touchdown drive set up by a punt that was partially blocked near the end of the first half.
On a fourth-down play, Shane Schuback took a direct snap out of the Wild Devil formation (better known as the Wildcat), exchanged the ball with quarterback Manetti, and caught Manetti’s 20-yard touchdown pass to give Old Forge a 7-0 lead just 28 seconds from halftime.
“Nice play,” Ravenstahl admired.
That was followed by a nice drive.
The Blue Devils barreled out of intermission with a 14-play, 43-yard march that advanced as deep at the North Catholic 10-yard line. But a holding penalty on Old Forge negated what looked to be a first-down run to the 7-yard line, and the drive stalled without points.
That played important when the Trojans then drove 86 yards for the tying touchdown, converting a fourth-and-seven trick pass that was nearly intercepted - but snagged by quarterback-turned-receiver Fulmore for an 11-yard reception and a first down.
It set up Fulmore’s lateral - on another fourth-down play - that running back Jermone Turner turned into a 16-yard touchdown run.
“They made a couple plays on that drive,” Mike Schuback said.
Suddenly, the game was even.
Minutes later, an Old Forge team that brought the town so much excitement this season gave their large contingent of fans one more big moment to roar about.
The Blue Devils needed only 82 seconds to move 56 yards give themselves a shot to win in regulation.
Running back Brandon Yescavage - held to 69 yards on the day - got the first 20 of them on three straight runs. Then Manetti went deep to Shane Schuback - who made a leaping, highlight-reel catch over a defender while keep his feet inbounds for a 28-yard reception.
“I went up, I reeled it in,” Schuback said. “I was feeling pretty good. We were just trying to move the ball down and score.”
Instantaneously, Old Forge was 16 yards from the winning score with 14 seconds to play.
“We were all anxious,” Blue Devils running back Jorden Sekol said. “We wanted to push it in so bad.”
After catching a quick four-yard pass, Shane Schuback - who added the kicking chores to his duties for the state finals to add some consistency - lined up to try a 29-yard field goal with eight seconds to play in regulation.
It fell short.
“I haven’t really been kicking field goals for the whole season,” Shane Schuback said. “I tried my best. I took the wrong steps, hit it wrong.”
Overtime started off right for Old Forge.
Yescavage, the Blue Devils’ go-to guy all season, really got it going after regulation ended.
Out of the Power-I formation, he ripped off a five-yard run, then followed it with a five-yard touchdown run. Shane Schuback’s extra point was true, and the Old Forge-filled stands erupted with glee over a 14-7 lead.
It lasted one play.
Fulmore dashed up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown on North Catholic’s first snap in overtime, and the Trojans decided they’d try to win the state title right there.
“It was an easy decision, to go for two,” Ravenstahl said. “They’re just a very determined bunch. We’ve been playing like that all year.”
Quickly pushing aside thoughts of forcing a second overtime with an extra point, North Catholic put the game into Fulmore’s hands.
A bunch of Blue Devils grabbed him. But Fulmore, and the state championship, slipped away.
“We came all the way here to lose by one point,” Shane Schuback sighed.
“He’s a very good player,” Sekol said of Fulmore, “he’s quick. He just got through our defense. I wouldn’t want the game any other way - overtime in the state championship, play on the goal line, one-point loss. You can’t beat that.
“It’s just unfortunate we came up short.”
North Catholic 15, Old Forge 14
OF — Shane Schuback 20 pass from Jake Manetti (Schuback kick), 0:28
NC — Jerome Turner 16 run (Mike Tarasovich kick), 7:01
OF — Brandon Yescavage 5 run (Schuback kick)
NC — P.J. Fulmore 10 run (Fulmore conversion run)
Team statistics`North Catholic`Old Forge
RUSHING — NC, P.J. Fulmore 33-109, Jerome Turner 6-26, Ryan Kirby 1- (minus 1). OF, Brandon Yescavage 22-69, Shane Schuback 8-63, Jake Manetti 8-15, Bobby Rinaldi 2-7, Jorden Sekol 1-2.
PASSING — NC, Fulmore 0-5-0, Kirby 1-1-0-11. OF, Manetti 7-10-0-63.
RECEIVING — NC, Fulmore 1-11. OF, Schuback 7-63.
MISSED FGs — OF, Schuback, 29, short.