On-field celebration over, song sung second, a quintet of Army West Point football players sat crammed around a press conference table Saturday night in the bowels of Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, waiting for the reality of a 21-17 streak-busting win over Navy to sink in.

Progress was slow.

"It's surreal," said senior receiver Edgar Poe, who lost his helmet as Army football faithful stormed the gridiron after the final gun.

"I can't describe how it feels," said senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, whose 9-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run gave Army the lead for the last time, and whose first-down plunge as the clock ticked down sealed the victory.

Another senior, linebacker and team captain, took a swing: "I'm so happy to be part of this brotherhood, part of this team. I know we honored Brandon with our play here today."

Brandon Jackson, defensive back and member of the class of 2019, died in a car crash in September, shortly after the Black Knights (7-5) moved to 2-0. Teammates have played in his memory since; King penned a tribute that went onlineas rivalry week began, and Jackson's mother attended the game and celebrated with her ever-growing Army family.

Cadets hold a No. 28 jersey during the singing of the West Point alma mater. Army sophomore cornerback Brandon Jackson, 20, who wore No. 28, died in a single-car accident on September 11, 2016.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Milbrett/Staff

"They love Brandon, and to be able to share that victory with her, and for her to be able to see just how much Brandon means to these guys was really special for all of us," head coach Jeff Monken said. "She was able to talk to the team. I was really glad she did, and we presented her with a couple mementos that would have been Brandon's for this game."


CIGARS AT THE READY

In the last few minutes of the game, the West Point cadets were going wild. Their bellowing cheers of "Beat Navy" loudly juxtaposed the silence of the midshipmen, frozen on the other side of the stadium.

Army cadets were climbing over rails, perched and ready to rush the field, before the game was even over, and the cannons announced Army's triumph. 

Cadets and fans stormed the field, screaming and crying in celebration. 

A group of seniors, firsties, were smoking celebratory cigars they had brought with them just in case: "The Army never plans on losing," senior Michael Wilyard said.

Cadets rush the field after Army's win over Navy on Dec. 10 in Baltimore.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Milbrett/Staff

West Point sophomore Jake Kahoe took a few moments to lie on the field with some fellow classmates, "to take it all in."

"I mean, 14 years. I don’t even know how many people went through West Point and didn’t get to see Army beat Navy," he said. " And I did. This means everything."

West Point plebe Madeline Miller emphasized that this game, and win, is more than just a normal college game, even more than just an Army game.

"It represents the United States of America and what everybody is signing up to serve for, and is so special and so unique," she said. "It’s an honor to be here. We knew this was our year, and we believed."

SINGING FIRST

Army's overflowing adulation pushed out what could easily have been a memorable Navy comeback. Sophomore quarterback Zach Abey, making his first-ever start for the Mids (9-4), recovered from a two-interception first half to lead Navy on three straight scoring drives. The last, which he punctuated with a 41-yard scoring scamper, gave the Mids a 21-17 advantage.

But Bradshaw led Army back, and Abey's last drive fell short.

Navy quarterback Zach Abey with the keeper.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Milbrett/Staff

"I feel horrible for the seniors because I told them before the game that I would give it my all for them, especially for Will [Worth] and Tago [Smith, injured Mid quarterbacks] knowing how much they wanted this," Abey said.

Smith went down in the season-opener but was allowed to dress for the Army-Navy tilt. Worth and slotback Toneo Gulley went down with season-ending injuries on the same play during last week's American Athletic Conference loss to Temple.

"It is what it is," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said after his first loss to the Black Knights in nine tries. "They weren't going to postpone the game. We knew coming into the conference if we played in the championship game we would have only a week to prepare. You don't expect to get that many guys hurt."

Army had prepared since the final gun of its Nov. 19 home win over Morgan State. It showed most on the defensive end, where King and company held Navy to 201 total yards and eight first downs, and in the run game, where Army piled up 316 yards behind freshman Kell Walker and sophomore Andy Davidson.

Davidson's two first-half scores, after drives that totaled nearly 14 minutes, set the tone for the bruising contest. Another standout: Navy defender Sean Williams, who recorded a team-best 14 tackles, intercepted a pass and recovered two of Navy's three fumbles.

Navy will face Louisiana Tech in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23, while Army will face North Texas in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 27.

Staff writers Andrea Scott and Tony Lombardo contributed to this report.