After losing their last two games of the regular season and three out of their last four, some may say Penn Hills is backing into the WPIAL Class AAAA football playoffs.
With quarterback Billy Kisner under center, however, it might be more accurate to say the Indians are running straight forward into the playoffs.
Kisner, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound sophomore, has emerged as one of the best running quarterbacks in the WPIAL. In his first eight games this year Kisner rushed 144 times for 1,107 yards, which was second best among all Class AAAA players behind only Joey DeFloria of Hempfield Area heading into the final week of the regular season.
After sustaining a concussion against Mt. Lebanon in Week 8, Kisner was held out of most of Penn Hills' Week 9 loss to Woodland Hills for precautionary measures but Kisner is healthy and ready for the playoffs.
Penn Hills finished the regular season 5-4 overall and 4-4 in the Southeastern Conference to finish fourth. The Indians will play at Penn-Trafford (6-3) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Penn Hills started the season 3-0 with wins on the road against eventual playoff-qualifying teams Peters Township and Baldwin. It stumbled against undefeated Upper St. Clair, the likely No. 1 seed in Class AAAA, but picked up a non-conference win at North Hills.
Down the stretch the Indians dropped games against Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon and Woodland Hills by a combined 17 points.
Despite their late season struggles, with Kisner spearheading the Penn Hills offense, the Indians will not be an easy "out" in the postseason.
"It is a new season," Peterman said. "We are in and now we will go from here. It is a second season."
Kisner is averaging 7.7 yards per rush. He has also thrown for 448 yards and four touchdowns.
"We wanted him to be a pocket passer," Peterman said. "But our passing game is predicated on all aspects of football, blocking, catching and throwing."
He has come up with late-game heroics as he did when he scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 1:05 remaining to lift Penn Hills to a 21-17 win against North Hills. He can change a game with one run as he did when he scored on first-half touchdown scampers of 88 and 56 yards against Plum.
Kisner has topped 200 yards rushing in a game three times this season.
"He had a great season," Peterman said. "This wasn't a surprise, we knew what we had in him."
Along with junior Isaiah Jones, Penn Hills has one of the most dynamic backfields in Class AAAA. Jones rushed for more than 800 yards this season. Kisner and Jones have combined for 17 touchdowns this year. With Kisner basically out of action last Friday night, Jones rushed for 125 yards on 16 carries.
Last year Peterman realized Kisner's talent and potential almost immediately. He brought him up to varsity as a freshman and got him snaps at running back, quarterback and slot receiver. He ran the ball 20 times last season and caught six passes.
"Bringing him up as a freshman, we got him some varsity time and it got him acclimated," Peterman said.
With senior quarterback Darius Holloway graduating, Kisner moved into the starting role at quarterback. It was a difficult task for a sophomore taking over at quarterback for a team that had missed the playoffs the year prior for the first time since 1997.
"I think he handled himself very well," Peterman said. "He directed the offense the way we thought he would do it. He is only about 170 pounds, but we are talking about a sophomore. We are looking for him to fill out as he gets older."