Kistner’s big game helps South reach state semifinals

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Some see Kaiser Kistner play and see a great football player. And they weren’t wrong.

But South Williamsport coach Chris Isworth sees Kistner a little differently. No doubt he feels the same way, but Isworth thinks about something else first.

I watch him play baseball and he plays beyond himself. It’s the same in football.” Isworth said. “He’ll give you everything.”

Hall of Fame coach Dick Vermeil said he welcomes players who don’t stop working on players without that drive. Kistner epitomizes the type of player Vermeil is describing. And he gave every ounce of it again Saturday night at Millionaire Stadium.

Kistner ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns, set up a score, broke up a pass and broke up a pass at linebacker as South blanked Cambria Heights, 33-0 in the Class A state quarterfinals. The next Final 4 matchup is against state champion Steele-High, Friday at a location to be announced.

“I feel like people underestimate Kaiser and they shouldn’t.” Lineman Paxton Gephart said. He’s as good, if not better, than everyone else on the team.

Kistner has proven himself over the past three years, winning teams each time. He was a player who often did everything necessary to help his team win, but sometimes could be overlooked. Kistner provided depth in the backfield, spark on special teams and consistently made key defensive plays.

But when Kistner stepped into the starting backfield midway through, he really jumped out of the shadows. And in back-to-back state tournament wins, he’s had a game-high 100 yards rushing and has rushed for at least 96 in all three playoff games. Despite not being a starter until Week 6, Kistner rushed for 901 yards and 10 touchdowns, shining a spotlight on just how far determination can carry a player.

“I enjoy seeing him hit big runs, especially in big games.” Wide receiver Dylan Scheller said. “Our O-line is playing really well and everybody is doing a great job.”

Some teams, the Thunder and Lightning backfields have a strong nose runner and game-breaking potential. The south goes with thunder and lightning. Ryan Casella ran for an 87-yard touchdown against Cambria Heights, and the converted linebacker has nearly 1,400 yards this season.

Kistner fills Casella with the same intensity and will, not with blazing speed. Neither will go down easily and both took their toll against a strong Cambria Heights defense that allowed just 12 points per game entering the quarterfinals.

The offensive line paved the way and shined again Saturday. As Casella and Kistner blocked their linebackers, they were rewarded with runs. Kistner has shown from time to time over the past two weeks that he often held Muncy and Cambria Heights defenders for extra yards.

It’s not flashy and dashing, but it’s effective. Kistner hits the hole hard, fights for every yard and shows the same grit on the baseball field that he did when he helped an underdog team reach the state quarterfinals.

“I’m not trying to make big plays. Those will come.” Kistner said following a 57-20 district championship win in Muncie. “You only have to get 4-5 yards and those turn into first downs and first downs into touchdowns.”

Kistner has produced 14 touchdowns in three ways this season, serving as a runner, receiver and kick returner. Caught a clutch 20-yard fourth-down touchdown pass against Canton in the district semifinals and ran for 134 yards against Muncy. Against Cambria Heights, Kistner intercepted a pass over the middle at the Moti 47-yard line. That set up Kistner’s touchdown run at 20-0 in three years running the hole.

Kistner’s 40-yard dash time doesn’t raise eyebrows. He’s not a major college recruit. But he is wholehearted.

And that metal brings the best and the best of the mountains. So many teammates play the same way and see how far this team has come.

“He’ll keep fighting and he’ll keep playing and he’ll keep going.” Isworth said. “This is priceless.”

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