It was a drive that saved Michigan’s season, and a drive
that will likely be forever sketched into Michigan lore.

With 3:04 remaining in the game, the Wolverines received the
ball at their own 13-yard line trailing 24-20 with no timeouts. For
an offense that had failed to produce points in eight of its nine
previous drives, it was a challenge that looked massive.

But it didn’t look so colossal to true freshman
quarterback Chad Henne and the rest of the Michigan offense.

Henne orchestrated the Wolverines’ push down the field by
completing 5-of-6 passes, taking what the Minnesota defense gave
him. He hit fellow true freshman Mike Hart out of the backfield
before the running back found the sideline. He found Jason Avant
twice over the middle, then connected with Braylon Edwards for nine
yards. Henne finished with a pass to a crossing Tyler Ecker, who
broke a diving tackle and found himself running all alone down the
far sideline to the endzone.

The homecoming Michigan Stadium crowd of 111,518 went into a
frenzy as the Wolverines celebrated the winning score.

“I couldn’t breathe,” Ecker said.
“That’s what I was saying in the endzone. I fell and
then everyone jumped on me. I thought I was going to
die.”

Michigan’s 27-24 win was essential in its bid for a second
consecutive Big Ten title, and gave it its 16th consecutive victory
in the battle for the Little Brown Jug, college football’s
oldest trophy. Minnesota (2-1 Big Ten, 5-1 overall) came into the
game undefeated and does not have conference powers Purdue and Ohio
State on its schedule. A win would have given the Golden Gophers an
excellent chance in the conference race, and would have killed
almost all hopes of the Wolverines making the Rose Bowl. The game
also drew comparisons of last year’s Michigan-Minnesota game,
when the Wolverines trailed 28-7 in the fourth quarter, only to win
38-35.

“Anyone who saw those two football games saw two of the
best football games ever,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr
said.

Michigan (3-0, 5-1) had the opportunity to win because of a
number of monumental stops made by its defense in the second half.
While Minnesota’s running game — which came into the
game as the third-ranked in the nation statistically — had
its outbursts in the first half, including an 80-yard scamper by
Laurence Maroney, it was effectively shut down in the second.

The Golden Gophers ran for just 24 net yards in the second half,
and were unable to capitalize on numerous opportunities to take a
two-score advantage. After a defensive stop on the Minnesota half
of the field with just over 14 minutes remaining, Michigan
cornerback Leon Hall failed to corral the punt and Minnesota
recovered the free ball.

The Golden Gophers then had the ball at the Wolverines’
10-yard-line, leading 21-17.

But the Michigan defense held strong. Following a run for no
gain by Minnesota back Marion Barber III, quarterback Brian Cupito
rolled out twice and failed to connect with wide receiver Jared
Ellerson on both occasions. Minnesota was forced to kick a field
goal.

“In my mind, that’s when I knew we had hope,”
Carr said.

The Wolverines also recovered from two Henne third-quarter
interceptions. The first was on the opening drive of the second
half, when Henne misread the play and threw right to
Minnesota’s Brandon Owens in the middle of the field, who
returned the ball to the Michigan 47. Henne threw another pick when
he attempted a deep fade to Edwards in the endzone in double
coverage. The pass fell right into the hands of Ukee Dozier.

Michigan forced Minnesota to three-and-outs on both ensuing
possessions, giving up a combined total of six yards. But it also
resulted in the second straight week in which the Wolverines gave
up the ball without taking it away in return.

“We’re fortunate to win because they won the
turnover battle, and we won anyway,” Carr said.

The two interceptions were the only blemishes on two
beyond-their-years performances by Henne and Hart, as both played
arguably their best games of the season. Henne showed his greatest
improvement in spreading the ball around to his receivers,
completing 33-of-49 passes for 328 yards. Hart took his biggest
role as the team’s starting running back, taking just one
play off after getting banged up in the fourth quarter. Hart
carried the ball 35 times for a school freshman record 160 yards.
Both showed from the kickoff to the final drive that their
performances will continue to shape the fate of the Wolverines this
season.

“Well, I think the good lord, he gave them some gifts, and
confidence and spirit,” Carr said. “They’re not
intimidated by anything.”

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