STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - As camera flashes lit up Beaver Stadium, Joe Paterno got a ride to a victory celebration atop the broad arms and shoulders of two burly offensive linemen.
Career win No. 400 for Penn State's beloved coach will be remembered around Happy Valley for a long time.
Backup quarterback Matt McGloin threw for four scores, the defense pitched a second-half shutout and the Nittany Lions (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) rallied from a three-touchdown deficit Saturday night to defeat Northwestern 35-21 and get the 83-year-old Paterno his latest milestone.
"They had me up there before I knew it. I was hoping they wouldn't to be very honest," Paterno said after a getting mobbed near the end zone by players, school officials and family including his wife, Sue. Linemen Chima Okoli and Eric Shrive were among the players who lifted a smiling Paterno off his feet.
"I would be dishonest if I told you it wasn't a moving night for me, and it was," Paterno said.
JoePa is the first major college coach to hit 400 victories, but he tried to keep things as low key as possible, even with many of the 100,000-plus fans chanting his name. He's always tried to keep the focus on his team and the game, no matter how much hype there might be around his career.
"People ask me why I've stayed here so long, and you know what, look around, look around," he said as the crowd roared. "Now that the celebration's over, let's go beat Ohio State!"
Only two other coaches have more wins. Eddie Robinson had 408 with FCS school Grambling State, while John Gagliardi had 476 entering the weekend with Division III St. John's, Minn.
The festivities looked like they would be put on hold after a dreary first half for the Nittany Lions, and dual-threat Wildcats quarterback Dan Persa did his best to play spoiler.
He sliced through the defense for 109 yards on 25 carries and touchdown runs of 6 and 4 yards in the first half. He was also 16 of 25 passing for 201 yards, including a throw caught with one hand by leaping tight end Drake Dunsmore in the back of the end zone for a 21-0 lead late in the half for Northwestern (6-3, 2-3).
It turned out to be Northwestern's last big play, and Penn State dominated from there.
McGloin threw two more touchdown passes in the third quarter against a shell-shocked Northwestern defense before freshman tailback Silas Redd put Penn State up for good with a 4-yard scoring run with 1:31 left in the quarter.
"We lost momentum. They played with a little bit more of a chip on their shoulder," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We've got to fix our attitude and be able to seize momentum back and put our guys in position to do that."
Freshman Rob Bolden started for the first time since getting knocked out of the Minnesota game two weeks ago with a concussion, but was pulled after fumbling the ball away on a sack on his second series.
Enter McGloin, the scrappy former walk-on who finished 18 of 29 passing for 225 yards. Paterno said afterward that Bolden wasn't hurt.
Northwestern had a last gasp when Persa drove the offense to the Penn State 9 with 8:13 left but he threw an incompletion into the end zone on fourth down. Linebacker Michael Mauti led a furious second-half defensive charge to contain the dual-threat quarterback.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Chants of "Joe Paterno! Joe Paterno!" echoed through the stands with 6:30 left and Penn State up comfortably by two touchdowns. With fans furiously clicking away at their cameras, Paterno stood idly by on the sideline, hands in his gray Penn State parka, not paying much attention to all the ruckus.
Even Sue Paterno was trying to not to make a big deal about the milestone this week. The Paternos' son and quarterback coach Jay Paterno said the whole family initially planned not to attend.
"Mom, I hate to tell you, but it's kind of a big deal. 400 wins really hasn't been done at this level," he said in relaying the conversation before tearing up.
The boss, in the meantime, was more impressed by how his team won.
"To see them come back the way they came back," JoePa said, "really, it sounds phony, but really it was more important to me than whether it was 350 wins or 400 wins."
CFT: Former Penn State signalcaller Steven Bench joined the South Florida Bulls, he announced on Twitter.
CFT: The University of Nevada is honoring longtime coach Chris Ault, who stepped down in the fall, by renaming the school's football field after him.
Joe Paterno (1926-2012)
A look at the career of legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno
Video: Football from NBC Sports
HBO Real Sports: Bill O'Brien
Penn State football coach and 2012 National Coach of the Year shares the challenges in turning around a program shattered by scandal. Real Sports premieres Tuesday, May 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
BCS title game
Pregame color, key plays and other moments from 'Bama's blowout win.
Check out the action from the postseason.
Check out which players were best of the best at each position.
Check out some of the college football cheerleaders from across the country.