ANN ARBOR, Michigan (Ticker) -- Once again, Michigan had Minnesota's number in the fourth quarter. This time, a true freshman led them to victory.
Freshman Chad Henne tossed a go-ahead 31-yard touchdown to tight end Tyler Ecker with 1:57 remaining as the 14th-ranked Wolverines beat the 13th-ranked Golden Gophers for the 16th straight meeting, 27-24, in a key Big Ten Conference showdown.
Last year, Minnesota blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead in a stunning 38-35 loss to Michigan, which posted its biggest comeback win in school history behind fifth-year senior quarterback John Navarre.
Henne didn't get a chance to see last year's game, which was played on a Friday night. His Wilson High School team in West Lawn, Pennsylvania had a game at the same time.
"I saw clips of the game, but that's all," Henne said.
Although Henne threw two interceptions in the third quarter, he felt confident when Michigan got the ball at its own 13 with 3:04 remaining in the game and no timeouts.
"When you get that opportunity, you have to step up," Henne said. "You're a freshman, but you have to show that you're not a freshman. You have to show maturity."
Henne's teammates had confidence that he could lead them to the victory.
"He kept his poise," Ecker said. "For a young quarterback, he's amazing. He put the ball on the money and led us down the field. I think he found everybody today."
Braylon Edwards, who caught 10 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown, said that he felt no less confident that he did last year with Navarre at quarterback.
"I didn't see any difference between last year and this year," Edwards said. "Chad knows the offense and knows what to expect. He has a feel for where his players are going to be."
Henne impressed Minnesota coach Glen Mason.
"If you didn't know he was a freshman, you wouldn't know he was a freshman, if that makes sense,"Mason said. "He's got a great supporting cast and he's getting better and better each week."
In this one, Michigan blew an early 17-7 lead, falling behind, 24-17, on Rhys Lloyd's 26-yard field goal with 13:14 remaining before pulling within 24-20 on Garrett Rivas' 29-yard kick with 9:36 left.
In crunch time, Henne calmly led the Wolverines down the field. He found Ecker on a slant play across the middle and the tight end rumbled down the left sideline for the go-ahead score with just under two minutes remaining.
Henne said that Ecker was the third option on the play.
"The linebacker didn't see me leak out to the edge, so the flat was open," Ecker said. "I caught the ball and no one was there, so I just ran to the end zone."
That's when Ecker finally drew a crowd, but it was a bunch of happy teammates jumping on him.
"I couldn't breathe," Ecker said. "I thought I was going to die."
Henne and Edwards talked briefly before the winning drive started.
"He just said, 'It's time to forget about the turnovers and make good decisions,'" Henne said. "We knew we had one last chance. It was time to step up and make plays."
Minnesota got the ball back with one timeout left, which it burned before a 3rd-and-16 play with 1:43 to play. Quarterback Bryan Cupito ran 14 yards to set up a 4th-and-2, but his pass to tight end Matt Spaeth was incomplete, and the Wolverines ran out the clock.
"That was a heck of a game, wasn't it?" Mason said. "I enjoyed it up until the final result. I told our players that there were a number of situations that could have turned the game our way. It turned into a one-series football game. Credit Michigan, they made the plays. Criticize us, we didn't."
Henne completed 33-of-49 passes for 328 yards and two TDs for Michigan (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten), which has won the "Little Brown Jug" trophy between the teams in 16 consecutive meetings since a 20-17 loss in 1986.
Making his second straight start, Mike Hart ran 35 times for 160 yards - a record for a Michigan freshman.
Laurence Maroney ran for 145 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown, on 19 carries for Minnesota (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten), which could have seized control of the Big Ten with a win, as it does not face league powers Purdue and Ohio State. Maroney had just 20 yards on 13 carries in the second half.
"I thought they were magnificent," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said of the Wolverines' defense in the second half. "The real critical situation was when they punted and we fumbled. That was a great stop."
Carr was referring to a play early in the fourth quarter when Michigan's Leon Hall fumbled Lloyd's punt and Minnesota's Amir Pinnix recovered on the Michigan 9. But the Wolverines' defense held and the Gophers had to settle for the field goal.
Cupito went 8-of-22 for 156 yards and a score for the Golden Gophers, who gained 252 yards in the first half but just 82 after the break.
Cupito shouldered the blame for the defeat.
"There's no moral victory, we lost. I didn't make the right plays," he said. "It was the worst feeling (to lose). We knew it would be a close game, but I didn't make enough plays.
"If I had done more it would have been different. When we had the ball 1st-and-goal on the 9, a touchdown would have been big. With five minutes left Ernie (Wheelwright) beat his man and I threw it too deep off his fingertips. There were a lot of plays like that, which is why we didn't come out on top."