UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- There were vendors selling T-shirts Saturday celebrating Joe Paterno's 400th career coaching victory hours before the start of the game at Beaver Stadium.
For the better part of 29 minutes, Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa looked as if he was intent on ruining Paterno's first crack at the milestone.
But, that was before Penn State roared back from a 21-point first-half deficit to beat Northwestern, 35-21, in stirring fashion in a Big Ten Conference matchup.
The Nittany Lions (6-3, 3-2) scored 35 unanswered points on five consecutive possessions to match their largest comeback under Paterno.
The Lions also faced a 21-0 deficit at Illinois in 1994, before rallying for a 35-31 victory.
After the game, Paterno, 83, was carried off the field on the shoulders of a few of his players.
Paterno, the third coach in NCAA to win 400 games, but the first in Division I-A, has a career record of 400-132-3 in 45 seasons.
He was presented with a crystal football in a ceremony after the game, which most of the 104,147 fans watched.
Joining Paterno on the field was his wife, Sue, their children and several of his 17 grandkids. Some of his family members and players were wearing hats that read: "400 The Paterno Way."
"It was a moving experience, a great evening," Paterno said.
Paterno won his first game as Penn State's coach Sept. 17, 1966, against Maryland, 15-7, at Beaver Stadium. He was 38 at the time.
Wins No. 100, 200, 300, and 324 Oct. 27, 2001, when he passed Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant as the winningest coach in Division I-A, also came at home.
"It's amazing," said Miami Dolphins' rookie first-round pick Jared Odrick, who was one of many former Penn State players on the field for the postgame celebration. "I'll remember this for the rest of my life. I think you appreciate Joe a lot more once you're gone and then come back."
Penn State trailed, 21-0, with 56 seconds to go in the first half Saturday as Persa scored on runs of 6 and 4 yards and tossed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Drake Dunsmore.
From that point, quarterback Matt McGloin and the Lions dominated the Wildcats (6-2, 2-3) en route to their third consecutive win, which made them bowl-eligible.
McGloin, a former walk-on and third-stringer, replaced starter Rob Bolden after two series.
He completed 18 of 29 passes for 225 yards and threw a career-high four touchdown passes to spark the Lions.
Bolden, who had missed the past six quarters due to a concussion, completed 3 of 4 passes before departing. He also was sacked twice and fumbled once.
"I felt we needed little bit of a change," Paterno said, when asked why he turned to McGloin late in the first quarter. "I think he deserved a shot."
McGloin's 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brett Brackett with three seconds left in the first half pulled the Lions to within 21-7 at halftime.
After tossing touchdown passes of 3 yards to backup tight end Nate Cadogan and 36 yards to wide receiver Derek Moye, freshman tailback Silas Redd scored his first career touchdown on a 4-yard run to give Penn State the lead for good with 1:31 to go in the third quarter.
McGloin's 13-yard touchdown pass to tailback Evan Royster with 11:38 to go in the fourth quarter was insurance.
Penn State was 4 of 4 in the red zone, with four touchdowns.
"I think my performance speaks for itself," McGloin said. "I played well again. But whether I am the starter or not, that's the coach's decision."
Royster went over 100 yards for the second consecutive game, finishing with 134 yards on 34 carries, a 5.4 average. And Redd had his first career 100-yard game with 131 yards on 11 carries, an 11.9 average.
"To see [the kids] come back the way they came back was more important to me than whether it was 350 wins, or 400 wins," Paterno said.
Persa, who wasn't heavily recruited by the Lions coming out of Liberty High School in Bethlehem, completed 16 of 25 passes for 201 yards. He also led the team with 109 yards rushing on 25 carries and accounted for all three touchdowns.
Penn State racked up a season-high 528 yards of offense to Northwestern's 369. The Lions also had 260 yards rushing.
"When we were down 21-0, I didn't think we were out of it," Paterno said. "I thought we could move the ball. ... We dominated in the second half."
NOTES -- Moye, from Rochester High School, had five catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. ... Penn State registered four sacks, giving it 13 for the season. ... Outside linebacker Michael Mauti, who tied middle linebacker Chris Colasanti for tackles with 11, defensive tackle Devon Still and defensive end Pete Massaro had one sack each. Defensive end Sean Stanley and defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu shared a sack. ... Middle linebacker Nate Williams (Central Catholic) had 11 tackles for Northwestern and a sack. His brother, Quentin, had five tackles.
Ron Musselman: email@example.com .