One minute you're trying like crazy to win, attempting to garner a berth in another state championship game.

The next, you're feeling this kick to the gut: Your high school career has gone poof!

Bill Tobin, a 6-1, 190-pound senior linebacker, experienced that double downer Saturday at Coatesville High as West Catholic dropped a 23-21 heartbreaker to Lancaster Catholic in a PIAA Class AA semifinal.

"It really hit me when we got on the bus and I was thanking all the coaches," Tobin said yesterday. "West Catholic has done a lot for me. It put winning under my belt and taught me things I'll carry through the rest of my life."

That Tobin would attend West was hardly automatic.

Though now based in Broomall, he lived in Upper Darby as an eighth-grader and figured that community's high school would be his next stop. But then he played well in an all-star game and had a conversation with West coach Brian Fluck.

Family wheels began spinning. Didn't stop for a while, either.

Tobin's grandparents, John and Sally Tobin, are graduates of the old male and female West Catholics. They were nudging and so were Bill's parents, Bill and Joanne, even though they're products of Monsignor Bonner and sister school Archbishop Prendergast.

Once Bill agreed to become a Burr, he began bending the ear of first cousin Tim Carroll, who's more like a best buddy. So did the grandparents; John has been a constant at every game.

Carroll enrolled at West as well. Even became a record-setting kicker. With his cousin doing the long snapping.

Tobin said something the family members will remember the rest of their lives is the time, in sophomore year, on a designed play, he fired a direct snap to Carroll.

Something so cool must have happened. A 50-yard run for a score? A pass for a big first down?

"He was supposed to run, but he just fell to the ground," Tobin said, dryly. "Got a little scared, I guess."

In his final outing, Tobin posted a half-sack among four tackles. Lancaster Catholic has passing whiz Kyle Smith at quarterback, and after Brandon Hollomon used a 49-yard run to give West a 21-17 lead with 7 minutes, 31 seconds to play, he drove his squad 72 yards in 10 plays for the winning score at 1:01.

The six-pointer came on an 8-yard flip to Kevin Cotchen, and it gave Smith the state season record for TD tosses (50). For the game, Smith was 9-13, 174 yards, TD, and a 20-yard run for another score.

The Crusaders' (14-1) final drive was dual-purposed. They wanted to not only move downfield for a score, but also eat clock so as to minimize West's response time. It worked.

The Burrs' final play, trick variety, began on their 48. The hook went fine. The lateral did not. The ball dribbled out of bounds as the clock hit 0:00.

"At the end, we weren't getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback," Tobin said. "He had all day to throw. They were doing some outside pitches, too. I thought we were going to stop them, but we didn't. They got us.

"It was very emotional. You'd expect all the seniors to be upset because it's their last game. But a lot of the juniors and sophomores were crying, too. We all wanted to take that next step to Hershey [for the final, which last year produced a double-overtime loss to Wilmington]."

West's Jarred Evans finished 10-for-14 for 135 yards and a TD to Jim Lynch (4-38), who also recorded 2 1/2 sacks at defensive end and blocked a field-goal attempt. Dante Dickens had seven stops.

Tobin, a co-captain, is also a member of student council and maintains an 85 classroom average. He's thinking about ending a 2-year vacation from baseball, and tonight, like many city leagues players, he'll head to Cardinal O'Hara with his transcript and tapes with the hope of generating college interest.

"I've had great times with West football," he said. "It's been so much fun to be part of all this."