McKeesport knocks off TJ, sets up winner-take-all showdown with Belle Vernon next week

Friday, October 22, 2021 | 11:33 PM

When it comes to the Big 8 Conference, most of the talk usually revolves around Thomas Jefferson and Belle Vernon. But there’s a new big cat on the block, and the McKeesport Tigers have entered the chat.

McKeesport used a plethora of big plays and rode the hot wheels of Bobbie Boyd to hand Thomas Jefferson a 42-28 loss at Weigle-Schaeffer Stadium and pull into a tie for first place in the conference. That sets up a winner-take-all showdown at Belle Vernon next week.

Boyd finished with 228 yards rushing on only 16 carries and scored three touchdowns, and Kanye Thompson added three touchdowns, including an 81-yard kickoff return, to lead the Tigers.

“We played some really good football,” McKeesport coach Matt Miller said. “We’re usually the team that grinds it out offensively, but we have some home-run hitters. They make me look like a great play-caller.”

The teams were tied 21-21 at the half, playing in a pesky rain, but McKeesport outscored the Jaguars, 14-0, in the third quarter to take the lead for good.

The Tigers racked up 340 yards rushing compared to 150 for Thomas Jefferson (5-2, 3-2). In a game featuring two of the top three defenses in the conference, it was the offenses taking control early.

“I thought the big thing was we answered so quickly. Both teams did, but when we needed one, we got it,” Miller said.

TJ turned it over on downs on the opening drive of the game, and the Tigers struck quickly as Boyd’s 37-yard run set up Thompson’s 14-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0.

Needing a response, the Jaguars answered in five plays as quarterback Joe Lekse scored the first of his three 1-yard touchdown runs. The first was set up by a 37-yard catch-and-run on a pass to Sean Sullivan.

Just over two minutes later, it was Boyd scoring his first touchdown from 41 yards to cap a six-play, 80-yard drive to give the Tigers a 14-7 lead after the first quarter.

“The offensive line was setting a tone,” Miller said. “We wanted to make sure we were physical up front. That’s a good football team over there, and it starts with their unit.”

Lekse’s second touchdown run finished off a 12-play drive that started at the Jaguars’ 30. Lekse completed a 32-yard pass to Sullivan to convert a key third down early in the drive to keep it alive.

But the Tigers (8-1, 5-0) got the quickest response of the night as Thompson bobbled Andrew Graham’s kickoff and returned it 81 yards for a touchdown. Milton Campos’ PAT made it 21-14.

“That play was huge. We were responding all night but none bigger than that,” Miller said. “We have some special kids with speed to burn. That play was big for us, and it really swung the momentum.”

The Tigers’ defense forced a TJ punt, and Jahmil Perryman returned it 46 yards to midfield. Fifteen more yards were added on thanks to a late hit out of bounds by the Jaguars, and the Tigers were in business.

But the Jaguars got their big play as McClain Flinn stepped in front of a Caleb Reist pass for an interception, returning it 69 yards to the 1-yard line.

Lekse finished it off to tie the score at 21-21.

“I saw the formation, and we had the run-pass option,” Miller said. “I saw how they were lined up, then I saw Caleb throw it and couldn’t believe it. But that one is on me. If I could take it back I would.”

McKeesport received the second-half kick and didn’t waste time getting the ball back into the end zone. Only four plays were needed as Thompson took a jet sweep and rolled 36 yards down the sideline.

“His kickoff return was a big play, but I’ll tell you, that run he had there was a beautiful run. One of the best I’ve seen this season,” Miller said.

After the teams swapped punts, the Tigers drove 86 yards in nine plays, capped by Boyd’s 14-yard run to take a 35-21 lead.

Elias Lippincott cut the lead to 35-28 with 6:33 left in the game with a 3-yard touchdown run, and it looked as though the Jaguars recovered a fumble by Colin Scharritter on an onside-kick attempt.

Scharritter was ruled down when he lost the ball, though, and Boyd broke the TJ hearts on the first play on the ensuing drive with a 48-yard dagger to seal the win.

“He’s so bottom heavy,” Miller said of Boyd. “He’s not the biggest kid. But he’s so strong in his bottom half, it really makes him hard to tackle. He was outstanding for us tonight.”

Lippincott led the TJ offense with 123 yards on 20 carries. Lekse completed 6 of 12 passes for 102 yards.

The win sets up a showdown at BVA’s beach at James Weir Stadium for the Big 8 title when the Tigers make the trip next week.

“It’s going to be a great game. It means a lot. It’s for the conference title, a first-round bye … we’re playing a 10-week season, so we could use a week off,” Miller said. “I can’t wait.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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