THE WORDS came out in spurts. The tears fell out of his eyes in drips and drabs.

No way Jerry Rahill felt like accommodating a steady stream of reporters in freezing conditions a shade before 9:30 last night at Hersheypark Stadium. But class will win out even in the most negative situation, so there he stood, answering questions and trying to come up with coherent responses.

Selinsgrove 28, Archbishop Wood 0.

That was the final score in a PIAA Class AAA semifinal. No gettin' around it.

Four interceptions and a lost fumble. That was Rahill's unfortunate outing.

Long after the reporters finished speaking with Rahill, coach Steve Devlin walked over to offer a hug and low-volume, yet passionate, words of encouragement. At some point they would work, whether a short while later in the locker room, or on the long bus ride back to Warminster, or maybe today, tomorrow or sometime this coming week.

"Jerry's a tough kid. A warrior," Devlin said. "I'd go to battle with him any day. He's one of the greatest kids I've been around, and just a tremendous athlete. He really is. A special kid."

By early in the fourth quarter, Rahill was also a bell-been-rung kid.

Just after whipping a pass to Sam McCain (seven catches, 97 yards, interception) that went for a 35-yard completion, Rahill was hammered into the artificial surface and a Selinsgrove player drew a roughing-the-passer penalty.

Rahill said later he felt a little dizzy. Devlin said the hit was so ferocious, it momentarily damaged Rahill's helmet.

Rahill came to the sideline and Joey Monaghan replaced him. Procedure was called on that nonplay, however, and Rahill zoomed right back onto the field.

Devlin had no prayer of preventing that. A straitjacket, accompanied by balls and chains, would have been unsuccessful as well.

"He got us here," Devlin said. "For him not be out there wouldn't have been right."

That possession ended with a pick. Two others also did not pan out.

"It's just . . . whatever," Rahill said, with difficulty. "Rough way to finish. [Devlin] knew I wanted to be out there."

Because his team, which returned just three starters from a squad that bested Selinsgrove in this same round a year ago, had played so hard for him all season, Devlin went to bat for it - albeit in unconventional fashion - in the final 2 minutes.

Up by the final score, Selinsgrove thrice took knees deep in its own end. Devlin signaled for timeouts after two of those plays. Thus, the Vikings regained possession on the Seals' 45 with 1:09 remaining.

Passes of 16 yards to Kyle Adkins and 30 to Michael Downs, with a sack mixed in, helped place the ball at the 1 with 0:12 showing. Rahill tried to surge ahead. Didn't work. He was pushed back maybe half a yard. And that was rather fitting, considering how well Selinsgrove's defense had played all night. Time was called at 0:01. A pass to Downs zoomed through the end zone untouched.

As Devlin spoke in the postgame gather-'round, only a few players showed unabashed emotion. The Vikings' fate had been sealed for a while. Plus, Devlin made sure to remind them how special they had been.

"It's gonna hurt. It's supposed to," he said. "But only four teams [in AAA] reached this point and we have a lot of great things to remember."

Said Rahill: "It was great that we won the Catholic League. And we're proud we reached this point. Just wish it could have gone better. We wanted to win."

Wood can take solace from the fact that its two best players, Rahill and rusher/defensive back/return man Scott Adkins, Kyle's older brother, were among those who had off nights. If lesser lights had caused the defeat while the bigwigs had starred, that would have been tougher to take.

At corner, the frisky Adkins was beaten for three big plays by wideout Ryan Keiser, who has said to be headed to Penn State as a preferred walk-on. Two went for touchdowns. And the leaping Adkins even got his hand on the first score, which came on a 10-yard fade.

"He beat me a few times," said Adkins, who had an interception, No. 13 for his career. "I was giving my all out there, and we even made some adjustments. But it was just tough. I'll give it to him. He's a good player.

"I covered him last year and it was a different story. I got him. He got me this time."

As Wood's players left the field, the cheerleaders formed two lines and spelled out V-i-k-i-n-g-s and words of encouragement cascaded down from family members and students. Mad dashes to cars would have been forgiven, as it was very c-c-c-old.

Rahill finished 12-for-29, 159 yards. He was sacked four times and a number of his passes were batted. Also, two of the interceptions went to linemen and one of those grunts, Jon Trego, posted a TD on an 18-yard return.

"They were hitting us with a lot of blitzes," Rahill said. "Sometimes we didn't know where they were coming from."

Now, guys such as Scott Adkins can only hope he knows where Wood's program is going.

"For the juniors and sophomores," he said, "it's much different because there'll be a good amount of starters coming back. I wish I could still play next year. I want to see these guys go on and win a state title."

That would also produce tears. The good kind.