STATE COLLEGE – As 110,000 disappointed fans filed out of Beaver Stadium Saturday night, there was at least one Pennsylvanian who wasn’t cursing the name of Chad Henne.
After Michigan’s junior quarterback shook hands with some friends on the Nittany Lions and did an interview for ABC following the game, Henne’s high school coach, Jim Cantafio, met him with open arms and a huge smile.
The two hugged near midfield and exchanged a few words before Henne exited to the locker room to celebrate his team’s 17-10 win.
“I’m very proud of Chad; he’s such a classy young man,” Cantafio said. “It’s amazing that you can come into this environment and do what he does and stay so in control.”
Henne, a Wyomissing, Pa. native, was the subject of derogatory chants, signs and even T-shirts, the brain child of angry Penn State fans.
But the hostile homecoming couldn’t stop Henne, who his former coach said was calm, cool and collected considering the circumstances.
“He was so confident,” Cantafio said. “He never seems to be nervous or uptight. He was looking forward to this opportunity because it was going to be his only opportunity to come to his home state. This was it, and he did, and I think he performed very well.”
His numbers may not have been jaw-dropping (15-for-30, 196 yards, one touchdown), but Henne’s leadership and poise in a crazy environment made up for the average numbers – and then some.
Henne made checks at the line countless times, fighting off the crowd noise to make adjustments to what Penn State’s defense was showing.
“I think Chad Henne was just unbelievable in the way that he was able to keep us in our offense and get us in the right play,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “There (are) a lot of teams that go into those situations and just decide they’re not going to check the play, they’re just going to call a play and run it.”
But Henne’s poise and vocal cords weren’t the only things that led the Wolverines to victory. Not surprisingly, his arm did its part, too.
In the game’s opening stages, Penn State’s rushing defense – second-best in the Big Ten – stifled Michigan’s star running back Mike Hart.
Henne was up to the challenge, playing mistake-free football until finally breaking through and leading the Wolverines to their first touchdown in the second quarter.
He threaded a 25-yard pass to sophomore Adrian Arrington perfectly through two Nittany Lion defenders, giving Michigan a lead it would never relinquish.
“Henne made some outstanding plays,” Carr said. “That’s really what enabled us to score some points.”
Henne’s performance was even more impressive considering he was the Keystone State’s most-wanted man Saturday night.
“Of course there were some fans who were booing and were saying names that weren’t politically correct,” Henne said. “Just ignore it, let it go in one ear and out the other and just come out and play with your team.”
Henne wasn’t the only Wolverine who didn’t get the kindest of welcomings during his return to Pennsylvania. Senior wide receiver Steve Breaston’s mother was kept up until 4 a.m. the night before the game by angry Penn State fans who kept prank calling her.
But both the Wolverines from Pennsylvania and their teammates were able to come together and remain undefeated despite all the obstacles caused by the trip out east.
And in the process, Michigan was able to win over at least one Pennsylvanian.
“Sure they can,” replied Cantafio when asked if Michigan could run the table this year. “As long as they keep their heads on straight, they’re going to head into Ohio State undefeated and play for a right to the national championship.”