Though still hobbled by his high ankle sprain, Mike Hart made the decision a week prior to Saturday’s bout in East Lansing to get back out on the field. He looked like his old self to start the contest, rushing 13 times for 97 yards in the first half. As the game progressed, however, the knifing pain in his ankle escalated and he had to take himself in and out of the line up.
“I have to do the smart thing,” Hart said. “If I cannot run on my ankle, I am not going to get the ball on the one or two yard line. It is going to hurt the team. I am not a dumb player. I asked to come out a lot of times (Saturday). Every time I came out of the game it was on my own. No one else made me come out. That is how we plan to work out it out this week. When I felt like I needed to come out, I came out. “It is hard. It is hard, especially with a game like (Saturday). At the end of the day, you want to be in there helping your team. You have to do the smart thing though. I cannot be stupid. I cannot be selfish. That way Minor can go in there and get the job done. I am not going to be selfish and go in there and hurt the team.”
Before the game even started, Hart anticipated not being able to play every snap. Based on past experience, he knew it was only a matter of time before the discomfort increased.
“That is what happens when you come back a week early,” he said. “It is not like it still injured. It just takes time to heal when you come back a week early, it is not going to heal as fast. When I got the high ankle a couple of years ago I missed thee weeks and I came back for the Ohio State game the fourth week. So you know this was the third week right here. This was the third Saturday. We knew we were a week early, but I had to go.”
Much like his fiery teammate, Chad Henne wasn’t going to miss Saturday’s game either.
“I really wanted to come and play,” the veteran quarterback said. “It was all decided in warm up, on how I would feel and I came out in warm ups and I was throwing fine, so it was a good shot to go out there and play.”
Also like Hart, Henne seemed on to start the game on a high not, but as the game went along he too became more and more bothered by his injury. The consistency he had regained since returning from his early season knee injury was clearly impacted.
“Obviously I missed some throws out there (Saturday) and that was due to the shoulder,” Henne later admitted. “I thought I played pretty well. I was probably about 80% and it is a difficult injury to play with, but you are determined week in and week out to get treatment and stuff and get better, so I was in the training room in and out every day.”
That grit and determination showed up on the final two offensive drives when Henne found that consistency again, going 10/13 through the air (including two touchdown passes) to pull the game out. It was the kind of performance that validated to his teammates and coaches what they had been telling others about him all season long.
“This guy, if you want to define courage, one way to do it is to mention Henne,” Carr said. “This guy has been that way since the day he got here. He has never received the credit that he deserved. What he did a couple of weeks ago at Illinois, what he did (Saturday), as coach, I can only admire and respect and love him for it. His teammates, I think, feel the same way about him. He is just a guy that loves to play, loves to compete. Every QB that I have had since I have been the head coach, tough guys, smart guys, but there is not anybody tougher than Henne.”
That toughness may have been why the Michigan sideline didn’t panic when the Spartans were celebrating their 24-14 advantage with 7:35 remaining in the game.
“I am just laughing,” Hart said recalling his feelings the moment his club went down 10. “It is funny. “They got excited. It is good. You know sometimes you get your little brother excited when you are playing basketball and stuff, you let them get the lead and then you just come back and take the victory. I was in the game three years ago when we were down by 21 with seven minutes to go in the game. It is something that we knew that we could come back from. We had Mario and Chad. We can throw the ball deep whenever we want to. So as long as we are protecting, I knew we had a chance to win the game.”
“We knew all game that we could move the ball on their defense,” Henne added. “Obviously the three and outs did not help. We were kind of hurting ourselves, missing throws and really could not establish a run game. We really stepped up at the end. They were switching up some of their defenses and we attacked that. We were saying all game that they could not stop Mario. He was beating their corner every play. That is why we were taking some shots deep. At the end, I just kind of audibled. We had a two square in attack and I just audibled to that last touchdown. Just said, ‘hey, just kind of stutter that square in and go for the end zone’.”
With the victory in their intra-state rivalry now behind them, (their fourth in four tries), Hart & Henne will now try to ready themselves for final two games of the season. If Hart’s words are any indication, Michigan fans shouldn’t be surprised next weekend when he (and Henne for that matter) answers the question, “Are you hurt or are you injured?”
“It feels a lot better than when I first hurt it,” Hart said regarding his ankle. “Like I said, it is not like I injured myself any more today. It is just an injury that takes time. I knew that I was going to be in and out of the game today. I am not injured any more.”