As Mike Hull, well-protected by a blockade of teammates, raced with the football toward a screaming contingent of Penn State students in the south end zone, most of the Penn State sideline ran parallel to him in the same direction.
Ted Roof's defense turned in a solid four-quarter performance in Saturday's defeat of Navy.
One man went the other way, toward the opposite end zone. Bill O'Brien trotted over to his defensive coordinator, his former boss, his long-time friend, and celebrated with Ted Roof. When the Nittany Lions' first win of the season, a 34-7 romp over Navy, was officially in the books, Penn State's players gathered to sing the school's alma mater. O'Brien turned to Roof and said, "Real good job today."
When the cameras and microphones came out, O'Brien and Roof and their players said all the right things -- it was one win, Temple will be a tough game, there's a long way to go and so forth. But this was a satisfying afternoon for all of the Nittany Lions, particularly the respective architects of the offense and defense.
O'Brien wasn't gushy or brash or bold in his post game comments, first to TV cameras, then to the media -- it's not his style -- but it was clear that he was a little emotional. Considering all he and his players and his staff have had to deal with on and away from the field, how could he not have been?
"I feel very close to this football team as does our staff," he said. "This is a great group of kids. When you think about all the things they've been through, it's a pretty great group of kids."
That group of kids wanted this win for their new coach. Seniors Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill gave O'Brien the requisite shower with the Gatorade bucket, then each of the players stopped to hug O'Brien in the locker room.
Maybe Roof had heard the heavy criticism of himself and his defense after the first week of the season, and maybe he hadn't. Like O'Brien, he wasn't turning cartwheels after the game, either, but it was evident in his sideline demeanor that he enjoyed what was arguably the defense's best effort of the season -- four turnovers, four sacks, nine tackles for loss, one touchdown allowed -- with some relish.
"I'm really excited. I'm excited because our kids earned it," Roof said. "They deserved to win and they did. It wasn't given to them. These kids have done everything we've asked them to do, and I have a lot of respect for this senior class and all the things that Bill's been through, and has done such a wonderful job with it. It was good for everybody and I'm especially happy for him and our players."
The Midshipmen, last seen getting squelched 50-10 by Notre Dame, were easily the least impressive opponent Penn State has seen this season. Navy's triple-option offense did put up 240 yards in the second half, but the visitors lacked the athletes across the board and made too many mistakes to hang with the Nittany Lions, who did not make the mistakes that got them into trouble in the first two weeks.
A week earlier, quarterback Matt McGloin had talked about something he couldn't quite pinpoint holding the team back. Asked if the Nittany Lions had exorcised whatever unseen force that was with a convincing win, McGloin shook his head.
"I don't think so. It's getting there, though," McGloin said. "I left a lot of plays out there today. I made some bad reads, chased my read a few times. We're getting there. We're not where we should be yet. This offense can be a lot better. Hopefully, we'll keep progressing into Temple and hopefully we'll have it figured out by Big Ten play."
It is possible that the Nittany Lions will enjoy this win a little too much and feel a little too good about themselves heading into next week's home date with Temple. This is, after all, still a very young team. But it's more likely that the group's seniors -- who seemed the least impressed by the team's performance Saturday -- won't permit that to happen. Penn State's coaches have no intention of letting it happen.
"You won't have to worry about us being overconfident," Roof said. "We're going to go back to work and we've got to worry about getting better. We've got to be better in Week 4 than Week 3. I think we've gotten better in some areas every week and we've got to continue to do that."
Penn State has improved from Week 1 to Week 2 and from Week 2 to Week 3, but there is still much improvement to be done. The coaches and players, at a time when they could have easily been wallowing in self-satisfaction, instead demonstrated that improvement remains their primary goal.
OK, so maybe improvement was the secondary goal. Getting a W was the primary goal, and for the first time this season, the Nittany Lions met it. And getting a win, any kind of win, was a huge step for this team. Roof and O'Brien will still make sure the Nittany Lions get back to work on Monday, but Saturday night and Sunday should be a little more enjoyable for the two old pals.