[Photo credit to Danny Wild/Army Athletics]
The instant quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw took one final knee, 14 years of frustrations were released as The Long Gray Line flooded the field.
Seemingly every one of the 4,400 cadets from West Point streamed onto the grass at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore to celebrate Army’s 21-17 victory over the Naval Academy, the Black Knights’ first in the storied rivalry since 2001.
Though Brandon Jackson was not on the field exulting with his teammates, he was very much a part of an afternoon that will not soon be forgotten.
“Every guy played their hearts out and I really appreciate that,” said senior linebacker and captain Andrew King. “I’m so happy to be a part of this brotherhood, a part of this team and I know we honored Brandon with our play. His mom was here and we definitely showed out for his family; we came out with a victory. Brandon is still with this team. He is watching over us and he is jumping in heaven right now.”
Jackson was a sophomore defensive back who was killed in a one-vehicle accident not far from West Point on September 11. The news of his death shook the academy to its core, but not the resolve of his fellow cadets.
In the tragedy’s aftermath Army coach Jeff Monken spoke about how the team, with a huge assist from the seniors and other leaders, showed tremendous strength and character in overcoming the loss. The brotherhood King spoke of and a deep sense of care for one another was evident throughout the season, and especially so on Saturday when the Black Knights showed Jackson’s mother, Morna Davis, first-hand just how much her son meant to them.
“The kids love Brandon,” said Monken, who noted it was the first game Davis attended since her son’s passing. “To be able to share that victory with her, and for her to see how much Brandon means to these guys was really special for all of us.”
Junior safety Rhyan England and Jackson started several games together in the defensive backfield with the last such occasion against Rice on September 10. The camaraderie that goes with being on the same unit is one England will forever cherish.
“We were pretty close,” he said. “We built off each other, challenged each other and always joked around in the locker and outside of football. He always uplifted me and it is an unbelievable feeling to win this game and especially to win it for Brandon Jackson.”
When asked what Jackson might have been thinking as he looked down on the joyous chaos that was the victory celebration, England said with a smile that stretched from one end of the postgame media room to the other, “I think he is thinking that we probably should have beaten them by a little bit more and that I could have made a couple of more plays. He’s probably joking about that.”
Sophomore fullback Andy Davidson noted how the Black Knights tried to play the rest of the season the way that Jackson played every game.
“We try to emulate his charisma, his love of the game and how he played,” he said. “It is really hard when you have a person like that taken from you. We dedicated the season, and especially this game, to him. I think he is happy right now. We think about him all the time and he will always be in our thoughts.”
The victory enabled the bowl-bound Black Knights (7-5) to clinch their first winning regular season since 1996, the year Jackson was born.