STATE COLLEGE - In his 45 seasons at Penn State, Joe Paterno has enjoyed numerous milestone victories.
On Saturday, Paterno reached a milestone that no FBS (Division I-A) coach had ever attained before and he did it in dramatic fashion.
Penn State overcame a 21-point deficit to beat Northwestern, 35-21, and give Paterno his 400th career coaching victory.
The comeback matched the largest during the Paterno-era and gave the 104,147 fans who packed Beaver Stadium a magical day to remember.
Paterno admitted he would have preferred the win to be a little easier for his Nittany Lions, but after watching his team score on five straight possession to stun the Wildcats he was all smiles.
"With the stages we are going through, this is an important part of it," Paterno said. "I had hoped that somewhere down the line that they would have a tough game and they'd stick in there to a point like we did against Michigan.
"To see them come back the way they came back was really important for me whether it was 315 wins or it was the 400 wins. I just think some of these kids now know what it takes to get it done, and to me, that was the important thing.
"I was significantly pleased that the kids got as down as they did and they held it together. All and all, I think it will be a great lesson for them."
Only two other college football coaches have proceeded Paterno to the incredible 400-win plateau, neither of them at the FBS level. John Gagliardo, who is 476-129-11 in 62 seasons, including the last 58 years at St. John's (Minn.) in the all-time win leader while Eddie Robinson compiled a 408-168-15 record in 56 years as head coach of Grambling University.
For most of the first half, it looked like Paterno's 400-win celebration would have to be put on hold for at least another week.
Behind the play of quarterback Dan Persa, a Bethlehem Liberty graduate, Northwestern jumped out to a 21-0 first half lead. Persa ran for two touchdowns and passed for one as the Wildcats built their lead.
But with :50 left and the ball deep in its own territory, Penn State decided to go into its two-minute drill instead of taking a knee and trying to regroup in the locker room. The moved paid off as red shirt sophomore quarterback Matt McGloin from Scranton orchestrated a nine play, 91-yard drive. Stepfon Green sparked the drive with a 21-yard scamper while McGloin added back-to-back 20-yard completions to Graham Zug and Joe Suhey.
McGloin capped the drive by hitting Brett Brackett in the back of the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown it turned out to be the spark Penn State needed to make history.
"We were actually feeling like we were winning the game going make history.
"We were actually feeling like we were winning the game going into halftime," said McGloin, who completed 18 of 29 passes for 225 yards and four touchdowns. "We were pumped, we were ready to go. The fans started to get back into it, the sidelines started to get back into it. We were ready to go and it showed."
The Lions converted all three of their offensive series in the third quarter into touchdowns and then added another score in the final period to seal the stunning victory.
It was what the entire Penn State roster wanted all week long. While coach refused to talk about the 400th, his players wanted to make sure they got it done in front of the home fans.
"I was telling my teammates all week, 'God forbid we would have lost today and we would have had to get it on the road,' it wouldn't have been as special," said Evan Royster, who finished with a game-high 134 yards rushing on 25 carries. "We're home. It was the first try. The 400 was big enough to us. I have been here for like 30 or 40 of those wins, but it was seeing the guys like Ki-Jana Carter, Kyle Brady, and all the greats being a part of it. This wasn't for us. It's much bigger than us.
"This I will remember for the rest of my life being a part of something so special. This is really monumental to us."
Meanwhile, after the post-game celebration, Paterno was just being Paterno.
"I want to thank [Penn State] President Spanier and [PSU Athletic Director] Tim Curlet for making this a special night. Most of all, I want to thank the guys that played for us and by us, I mean Penn State. People ask why I stayed here so long, I say, 'look around, look around.'
"Now that the celebration is over, let's go beat Ohio State."