Mario Manningham wasn’t the first option – that was Steve Breaston in the slot.
But with one second left in the game, Manningham beat Penn State’s best cornerback, Alan Zemaitis, on a 10-yard post to finish off the upset of No. 8 Penn State. With more than 111,000 people screaming in Michigan Stadium and who knows how many more watching on TV, it was Manningham who made the game’s most important catch in the game’s most pressure-filled situation.
And then he was off.
After Manningham made the catch to seal Michigan’s 27-25 win over No. 8 Penn State, he dropped the ball and took off running. And like much of the afternoon against Penn State defensive backs, no one could catch him.
“I was trying to chase him down, but he’s just too fast,” sophomore running back Mike Hart said. “He was running away from everybody.”
Twice this season – against Notre Dame and Minnesota – the Michigan players have had to watch visiting teams end games in the Big House by celebrating with their fans. This time, it was Michigan’s turn. The Wolverines ran from there to the student section and jumped into the stands – to sing and dance with their Maize-clad peers.
“That’s the best game I’ve ever seen or played in,” defensive end Alan Branch said. “It was an unreal feeling.”
When the hoopla ended, Chad Henne went back to his place – where his friend, a student at Penn State, was waiting.
“He was pretty much shocked,” Henne said, “and didn’t have anything to say.”
Neither did Henne’s critics. The sophomore quarterback led Michigan on an eight-play, 53-yard drive in the final 53 seconds. The drive, which came just after Penn State scored to take the lead with less than a minute left included five completed passes by Henne to go along with an 11-yard run by Hart. For the game, Henne went 21 for 36 for 212 yards and two touchdowns – both to Manningham. The first came earlier in the fourth quarter on a 33-yard pass down the left sideline. After the game, Carr took the opportunity to vent about the critics.
“Well, Chad Henne is a great quarterback, and anyone that knows anything about quarterback play would understand that,” Carr said. “But there are a lot of people out there that don’t know a quarterback from a first baseman, so they don’t know that.”
But for a while, it seemed as if Henne might have to continue to face the critics. After taking a 10-0 lead four minutes into the second half, Henne and the Wolverines handed the ball – and the game – to the Nittany Lions, literally. Just one play after Penn State had tied the game at 10 on a four-yard touchdown run by dual-threat quarterback Michael Robinson, Henne lined up under center, and, with no receivers open, Henne took off and picked up seven yards. But as he was going down, Zemaitis took the ball out of his hands and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.
“It was just a stupid mistake on my part, thinking I’m bigger than what I am, trying run over the corner,” Henne said. “That’s just one of my mistakes, and you just got to forget about it and move on to the next play. And that’s exactly what we did. We marched down the field and scored a touchdown.”
But even after marching downfield and scoring on the bomb to Manningham, the Wolverines had their work cut out for them – because they had let Penn State convert a two-point conversion after the Robinson touchdown run. “Convert” might be the wrong word for what Penn State did. A botched snap forced Kevin Kelly, the Nittany Lions’ 5-foot-7, 175-pound freshman kicker, to run the ball in for two points. So Michigan gave the ball to Hart for a three-yard scoring run that tied the game at 18.
“I said to myself, ‘You know, this isn’t fair. This is not fair,’ ” Carr admitted afterwards about Penn State’s two-point conversion.
Carr’s sentiment was understandable because the team has had its fair share of bad luck this season – from losing Hart to injury just before the Notre Dame game to giving up a 61-yard run to Minnesota when the Gophers were trying to run out the clock.
But against undefeated Penn State, the breaks went Michigan’s way. Place kicker Garrett Rivas, who was inconsistent in last week’s loss to Minnesota, connected on two field goals on Saturday, including a 47 yarder that put Michigan ahead 21-18 with less than four minutes left.
In all, the two teams scored 39 points in the final quarter – a quarter that saw the lead change hands four times. This time, the Wolverines (2-2 Big Ten, 4-3 overall) left Michigan Stadium just one game behind the conference leaders – although six teams are tied atop the Big Ten with just one conference loss.
“We still have a chance to compete for the Big Ten championship,” said LaMarr Woodley, who led the Wolverines with four tackles for loss and one sack. “It depends on what actually goes on. We’re still in the race; we just have to finish off strong.”
To Henne, the game may have had a little more significance than others. Henne, a Wyomissing, Pa., native, was pressured heavily to go to Penn State, and the quarterback had over 100 friends and family members at the game, including his parents, high school coach and girlfriend.
“Just like my coach and I said, ‘We can go back home,’ ” Henne said. “It’d be embarrassing if we went back home with a loss. They did a lot of things very well in the game. We just had the ball in our hands in the last couple seconds and just made it happen.”