Cadets and fans stormed the field to celebrate after the final whistle -- until everyone stopped and stood at attention for Navy’s alma mater in a surreal scene you will not see after any other college football game.
The Cadets and players then sprinted to Army’s corner of the end zone, ready to sing their alma mater second for the first time in 15 years. Army band members who had rushed the field scurried back to their seats to pick up their instruments and play.
Army players and Cadets raised their fists and continued to celebrate, as it seemed no one cheering for Army wanted to leave the field after so many years of having to walk back to their cars -- dejected following a Navy loss.
“That was a thrill for the Corps of Cadets, for the United States Military Academy, and for the United States Army,” said Army coach Jeff Monken. “A day like that is for all of us.”
Army beat its service academy rival in front of a sold-out M&T Bank Stadium crowd that included President-elect Donald Trump. Sets of four Apache helicopters and four F-35 warplanes executed flyovers before the game, along with the other Army-Navy game traditions and pageantry.
Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw scored the winning touchdown with six minutes left in the fourth quarter on a 9-yard run, to score Army’s only points of the second half. He engineered the 12-play, 80-yard drive that will be replayed by West Point students and alumni for years to come.
Navy staged a comeback in the second half after Army sprinted out to a 14-0 lead in the first half. Navy quarterback Zach Abey led the Midshipmen to score 17 unanswered points in the second half to take the lead, capping the comeback on a 41-yard run by Abey.
Heads sank on Army’s side of the stadium as many had seen this before -- an epic Army effort against the favored Midshipmen, only to see their team lose again.
But on the next drive, Bradshaw marched the Black Knights down the field for the winning score. The Black Knights converted a fourth down to keep the drive alive, instead of attempting a field goal to tie the game.
Army’s team would not be denied this year.
The team has dedicated this season to cornerback Brandon Jackson, who died in September in a car accident. Jackson’s mother joined the team in the joyous locker room after the win. It was the first game she has attended since her son died.
“I know we honored Brandon with our play. His mother was here and we definitely showed out for his family,” said Army senior linebacker Andrew King. “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.”
Army’s defense stymied a Navy offense that had run over its competition all year. Navy lost its starting quarterback the previous week in the American Athletic Conference championship against Temple, and the offense struggled under Abey’s leadership in the first half.
Army limited Navy’s offense to 201 yards, the least amount of yards compiled by the Midshipmen against the Black Knights since 1987.
Both defenses created three turnovers in a sloppy game that saw Army lose three fumbles and Navy lose one, while throwing two interceptions. The six total turnovers caused a back and forth affair, despite limited offensive output.
Navy turned the ball over three times in the first half, leading Monken to say he was disappointed his team was up only 14-0 at half-time.
Army started the second half with the football and had the opportunity to pull away from the Midshipmen. However, Bradshaw fumbled on Army’s first possession and Navy scored on an Abey one-yard touchdown run.
However, Navy could not complete the comeback and Army’s seniors got to end a streak of U.S. Military Academy classes that had never experienced a win over Navy.
“It is surreal. It still doesn’t even feel like it’s real. We are starting our own streak now,” said Army senior and wide receiver Edgar Poe.
Army coach Jeff Monken defeated Navy in only his second year at West Point. As cadets ran onto the field, Monken hugged players and celebrated. The former Navy offensive coordinator was brought to Army to beat Navy.
“I was in the other locker room when the streak started,” Monken said. “But I’m glad to be with this team to see the streak come to an end.”