STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin leaned down and squeezed his oldest daughter, Shola, like he never wanted to let go.
"I love you, I love you," the coach repeated to Shola, who was up way past her bedtime, but nobody seemed to notice.
Not on this night, one of the best nights they've had around here in a long time. It was White Out Night at Beaver Stadium, and the Nittany Lions broke out with their first signature win under Franklin. Penn State rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to send No. 2 Ohio State packing, 24-21, setting off one of those wild scenes we've become accustomed to in college football.
Just minutes after Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was sacked on fourth down, ending any hope the Buckeyes had of pulling this one off, the field was a sea of blue-and-white-clad (and delirious) Penn State fans. One middle-aged (and bare-chested) fan exclaimed, "I forgot what this felt like. All we've had around here is misery."
For Franklin, the last 2½ years probably seemed more like dog years, as he weathered massive scholarship reductions and back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two with the Nittany Lions.
His eyes were still moist 20 minutes after the game, as he soaked it all in.
"I don't even know that you can explain it, everything this program has been through the last five years," Franklin told ESPN.com. "No one understands what we're still going through. Nobody understands, so to see us all come together as a family and as a community, we don't do that by ourselves. It took all 107,000 fans in there going crazy."
Franklin's athletic director, Sandy Barbour, stood close by as Franklin hugged everybody within sight. Franklin's been a regular on coaching hot seat lists since the start of the season, which probably isn't fair when you consider this is the first year Penn State has been back close to the full 85 scholarships. Barbour and Penn State president Eric Barron both came out publicly in support of Franklin three weeks ago.
"I want to thank president Barron and Sandy for coming out and having my back, because this doesn't happen tonight without that, without their support," said Franklin, his voice rising with conviction.
He took a deep breath, wiped his brow -- the emotion of the night still etched all over his face -- and conceded that the enormity of what he walked into at Penn State was even more daunting than he thought.
"As much as I looked into it before coming here, there are so many complexities to it that you don't really understand until you get here," Franklin said. "That's with any job, but this job probably more so than any job in the country, with everything this university has gone through."
It was Franklin's first win over a nationally ranked foe since he arrived in Happy Valley in 2014, and he had been as frustrated as anybody that some of the Nittany Lions' gains in the program had not translated into more wins on the field.
"We've redshirted kids," Franklin said. "We've tried to build this for the long term, and there are times that I question if I should have done that. But it was the right thing to do for Penn State, and it's also the right thing for us."
Franklin never wavered in his belief he had the right kind of kids in the program, and perhaps that was never more apparent than on Saturday night, when the Nittany Lions made two huge special-teams plays to fight back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Ohio State was lining up to kick a 45-yard field goal that would have given the Buckeyes a 24-17 lead, but Marcus Allen burst through to block it. Grant Haley scooped it up on the run and raced 60 yards for the touchdown, sending tremors throughout Happy Valley.
"It was just a huge sigh of relief for this whole program, the coaches, the players, everything we've been through the last three years, the alumni and fans too," Haley said. "It was an exhilarating experience for all of us. We've worked so hard and to have this moment against the No. 2 team in the country and come out on top was an amazing experience."
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Penn State sideline erupting in celebration, Haley looked over at his head coach, and it was then that he realized how big this was for Franklin.
"The moment I'll always remember was seeing Coach Franklin after the game and seeing the tears come out of his eyes, because you could see how much it means to him and how much he cares about us," Haley said. "I gave him a big hug. That was the moment, with everything that has happened to us these last few years, that made it all worth it.
"He's our head coach. We're going to win for him and fight for him until the end."
Franklin, who did the unthinkable at Vanderbilt in leading the Commodores to back-to-back, nine-win seasons, has never been one to hang on too long to any win.
Forgive him, though, if he hangs onto this one just a little bit longer than usual.
"When you're at a place like Penn State, everybody wants you to just come in and wave a magic wand, but again, if you list out all the things we've been through, I can't tell you what this means to the guys in this locker room, to everybody associated with this great university," Franklin said. "I had some unbelievable experiences at Vanderbilt and have some of those players here with me tonight. (Former kicker) Carey Spear is here. We have guys come all the time and even parents from there come sometimes.
"I'm grateful for all the experiences I've had, but this was special in so many ways."