STATE COLLEGE -- Bill O‚??Brien waited just inside the entrance to the locker room. Every player that walked past got a handshake. Or a high five. A few seniors even went in for a hug.
Those same players then surrounded him in the middle of the room. After nine months of little but public relations work and damage control since he was hired, the Penn State coach got to talk about a win.
His first as a head coach. Penn State 34, Navy 7.
‚??That‚??s just one! That‚??s only one!‚?Ě O‚??Brien shouted as Penn State video cameras rolled to capture a bit of history. ‚??That was just what I told you last night. This can start a roll if we keep staying together.‚?Ě
Senior fullback Michael Zordich broke the center of the huddle with a football. A game ball, handing it off to his coach.
For Penn State, it was as much about relief as it was about celebration.
Players and coaches finally got to unwind on Saturday, taking to the south end zone to belt out the alma mater with the crowd following the win.
"Winning,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said, ‚??cures a lot of things. ‚?Ľ I felt in many ways that it was a long time coming.‚?Ě
And how. Officially, it was 15 years in the making.
Because of the NCAA sanctions that stripped the Nittany Lions of all of their wins from 1998-2011, the victory goes in the record books as Penn State‚??s first since Nov. 22, 1997 -- a span of 5,411 days.
‚??I feel very close to this football team and our staff,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??This is a great group of kids. When you think of all of the things that they‚??ve been through at 18, 19, 20 years old, it‚??s a neat group of kids.
‚??I don‚??t think in your coaching career that you‚??ll have a chance, in my opinion, to be around many groups of kids like this. And that says a lot coming from me, because I‚??ve been around some pretty special football teams. I just feel great for these football players here at Penn State today.‚?Ě
Matt McGloin tied a career-high with four touchdown passes, finishing 13-of-21 for 231 yards and no turnovers.
Three of the scores went to sophomore Allen Robinson, who caught touchdowns from 45, 2 and 25 yards out. He had five catches for 136 yards on the day.
McGloin‚??s other touchdown went to true freshman tight end Jesse James on a 2-yard play-action pass on the game‚??s opening drive.
The senior from Scranton added another bit of college football history to his resume. He was at the helm for Joe Paterno‚??s final game and led the Lions to O‚??Brien‚??s first win.
‚??He‚??s been through a ton so far since he‚??s taken the job here,‚?Ě McGloin said. ‚??It‚??s definitely been frustrating for us and for him, and it was so important for us to get that win.‚?Ě
On defense, sophomore linebacker Mike Hull returned a fumble 74 yards for a touchdown to close out the scoring for the Lions (1-2). It was the second straight week the defense forced four turnovers, recovering three Navy fumbles and getting a key red-zone interception from Gerald Hodges with the Midshipmen driving down 14-0.
‚??There was no way we weren‚??t going to win today,‚?Ě senior linebacker Michael Mauti said. ‚??I mean, everybody knew what we had to do.
‚??Defensively, everybody was pretty confident. We had a great gameplan. And offensively, you just knew those guys were going to start putting up points.‚?Ě
That they did.
Robinson has 24 catches on the season -- already halfway to the Penn State record for catches in a season by a sophomore after just three games.
McGloin completed his first seven passes in leading the Lions to touchdowns on the team‚??s first three drives.
He had one last call to make on the day, directing fellow seniors Hodges and Jordan Hill to douse O‚??Brien with the water bucket before time ran out.
‚??I heard the crowd, so I knew something was up,‚?Ě said O‚??Brien, seizing on a rare opportunity to laugh. ‚??I‚??m soaking wet right now and it was just one (win).‚?Ě
He‚??ll take it.