The photograph hung in Nick Elmer's locker for three years.

He looked at it every day. He let it remind him of the past and push him toward the future.

"It was a self-prophecy," Penns Grove coach Kemp Carr said. "He knew the scar it had left on him. He used it as momentum. It drove him every day."

On Dec. 8, Elmer finally put the figurative flame to that picture. That's one reason he was in tears after he led Penns Grove to a 30-14 victory over Woodbury in the South Jersey Group 1 title game.

"We've been through so much to get here," said Elmer, a senior quarterback who is The Inquirer's South Jersey Offensive Player of the Year. "So many things happened to us. I go back to my freshman year and the fumble and how much I wanted to make up for that."

Elmer believed a lost fumble, which then-freshman Anthony Averett returned 99 yards for a Woodbury touchdown, cost Penns Grove the sectional title in 2009.

Elmer kept a newspaper photograph of Woodbury players celebrating after that victory in his locker for three years.

He looked at it every day during the 2010 season, when Penns Grove was disqualified from postseason play because three athletes had been ejected from a game.

He looked at it every day during the 2011 season, when he labored with a high-ankle sprain and the Red Devils again were shaken by off-the-field issues.

He looked at every day during the 2012 season, as Penns Grove went 12-0 and set a state record for points scored with 621 and captured the program's first sectional title since the creation of the state playoffs in 1974.

"This is what I dreamed about," Elmer said.

Elmer's statistics were off the charts this season. He ran for 1,341 yards on just 117 carries (11.5-yard average). He ran for 16 touchdowns and 13 two-point conversions. He ran for 308 yards, breaking tackle after tackle, in the South Jersey Group 1 final - becoming the first quarterback in South Jersey history to run for more than 300 yards in a game.

Elmer was 81-for-147 passing this season for 1,716 yards and 24 touchdowns.

But Carr said that Elmer's greatest contribution to the Red Devils was in leadership and determination. He set the tone for a team that simply was not going to be denied.

"He's the ultimate gamer and the ultimate winner," Carr said.

"Nick showed us the way," said Sam Harvey, Penns Grove senior two-way lineman. "He's our leader on the field and our leader off the field."

Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports