One of the definitions found in Merriam-Webster for the word spell is “to take the place of for a time; relieve.”

It was a relief for McKeesport (9-1, 6-0) when senior Keith Spell punched the ball in from 3 yards out to give the Tigers a 14-7 lead with 10:02 left in the first half. McKeesport never relinquished that lead, beating Thomas Jefferson, 28-7, to claim the outright WPIAL Class 4A Big Seven Conference championship.

“This win is big,” Spell said. “We lost to them last year, and we had to share the title. So, this year we finally beat them and we won it all.”

Spell has been known around the WPIAL for years as a dominant force off the edge for the Tigers’ defense, but a new role has sparked the Tigers’ offense. 

“We only had to get a couple inches against Belle Vernon and we couldn’t get them,” McKeesport coach Matt Miller said. “So we decided to look at a big back situation. [Spell] had some experience there. He was kind of the front-runner when we went into it. After we started watching him, it was like ‘Wow! This kid is really good.’ Where have I been the last two years that I didn’t see this?” 

McKeesport describes him as a fullback, but whatever his role, when he’s in the backfield, he’s a problem for opposing defenses. Listed at 6 feet 2 and 255 pounds, his physical presence, combined with the speed and skill of junior running back Anthony Boyd, creates a powerful one-two punch. 

Boyd carried 22 times for 233 yards and two touchdowns against Thomas Jefferson (8-2, 4-2), while Spell finished with 50 yards on 13 carries and one score.

McKeesport’s Kemon Spell tries to get past Thomas Jefferson’s Jason Salman on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, at Thomas Jefferson. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

“Coach Miller said thunder and lightning,” Boyd said. “One hand is super fast and one hand is powerful. When we are both in there at the same time, there is really nothing you can do.”

At times, the Tigers have even pulled senior quarterback Garrett Tarker to the sidelines, lining up just those two in the backfield, causing headaches for opposing defenses. 

Add that to one of the most dominant offensive lines in the WPIAL, and it’s no wonder the Tigers bulldozed through conference play. 

For Spell, this season means as much as any. It is the first time he and his brother Kemon Spell are sharing the field. 

“I always stay on him,” Keith Spell said. “If you ask him, he might say I’m always on his back, but I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just trying to push him in the right direction.”

Kemon has already caught the eyes of those who have seen him play. He has earned offers from Pitt, Wisconsin, Marshall and UNLV.

“He’s only 14,” Boyd said. “He’s doing this at a young age, that’s why you see him getting all these offers. For him to step up to the table in his first year, that’s big. He’s a dawg.”

Added Miller: “Sky is the limit.”

Both Spell brothers have made their mark on the defensive side of the ball, but both now have the ability to change the game on offense, too. 

Don’t be surprised if you see Keith spell Kemon on the field at Acrisure Stadium, or vice versa. One generation making way for the next, just as Bobbie Boyd did for Anthony.

Saul works in sports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at

Saul Berrios-Thomas

Saul works in sports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at