The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

November 26, 2010

Van Pelt will never forget tie with WVU

MORGANTOWN — For Alex Van Pelt, the memories are as fresh in his mind as when it happened 21 years ago.

Pittsburgh trailed West Virginia 31-9 in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers rallied back behind Van Pelt, a young redshirt freshman just a few games into a career that would get him to the NFL.

Making matters worse, Van Pelt had roots in Grafton, just a short trip from Morgantown down U.S. 119.

Van Pelt overcame four first-half interceptions — and nearly two more on the game-tying drive — to set up Ed Frazier’s 42-yard field goal at the end of the game as it ended in a 31-31 tie.

His name became notorious in the Mountain State, where he grew up playing nearly in the shadows of Mountaineer Field.

“It was like a win for us,” said Van Pelt, who is the quarterback coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, after a successful career as a quarterback in the NFL. “I wasn’t playing well. But I had a coach who stuck with me and we were able to come back. That’s one of those games you never forget.”

Indeed, it has been ranked as one of WVU’s all-time non-wins.

Van Pelt had a 9-yard touchdown pass to Henry Tuten during the comeback, then guided Pitt from its 40 to the Mountaineer 25, including an 8-yard completion with seven seconds left to set up the game-tying field goal.

Van Pelt grew up a Mountaineer fan.

“We usually went to two or three games a year, my dad, my grandfather, my sisters,” he said. “So I knew all about the crowd. It was a little different that night going in on the other side. Actually, it was about what I expected from the crowd.”

He had been a part of that very crowd for years.

“One time I managed to get down on the field and I got Darryl Talley’s chin strap,” Van Pelt recalled. “I used that thing during my high school career. Ironically, I was teammates with Darryl with the Bills.”

And he told the former NFL linebacker great about his souvenir when they were teammates.

“He didn’t take too kindly to it,” Van Pelt said. “He said it made him feel old.”

Van Pelt started his career at North Marion, where he was a teammate of Rich Rodriguez.

“I was a huge Rich Rodriguez fan and I followed his career in college,” Van Pelt said.

A self-described “late bloomer,” Van Pelt went to Grafton for two years before he headed to Texas.

“We had an older quarterback (at Grafton), Brian Cochran, and he ended up going to Fairmont State,” Van Pelt said. “He kind of guided me in my decision. He said, ‘If you have a chance to go to Texas, where they develop great players, you should do it.’ And I did. It worked out.”

He got a couple of big-time offers after his senior year, and Pittsburgh, where he was born, was one of them. He told his dad he was ready to come home to play and chose the team on the other side of the Backyard Brawl, which will be renewed Friday at Heinz Field.

He said WVU was never in the mix.

“At the time they had Major Harris, and I’m not sure if they took another quarterback (in his recruiting class), but it worked out well,” Van Pelt said. “For both sides.”

Van Pelt would end his career 1-2-1 against WVU.

He was originally drafted in the eight round by the Pittsburgh Steelers but spent a majority of his NFL career with the Bills, where he started his coaching career.

Van Pelt will keep a keen eye on the Backyard Brawl today, as keen an eye as he can, around prepping his young quarterback, Josh Freeman, for the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. But make no mistake, the loyalties of his youth are a thing of the distant path.

“I was a Mountaineer fan,” he said, laughing. “But as an alumnus (of Pitt), I’m going with my guys. I used to hear about it from some of my buddies growing up. It’s kind of faded into the past lately. But that was a great night, a great game, and it’s something I  will never forget.”

— E-mail: demorrison@

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