At the end of the third quarter against Columbus State University, Fort Benning Doughboys’ coach Jason Gibson said he gathered the players together on the sideline for one final rally cry.
“I saw the Doughboy Trophy behind us sitting up in the walkway, so I called all the players over to me with my back to the trophy and them looking at me,” he said. “I told them in military words, that it was our trophy sitting up there and we aren’t letting it go anywhere but Fort Benning.”
That trophy, and that game, was the culmination of a long season for the Doughboys. They delivered the Doughboy trophy back to Fort Benning, the only place the trophy has been since the first Doughboy Bowl. In that moment on the sideline, Gibson said he knew it would be a game the players would remember the rest of their lives.
“I told them, you have 15 minutes left to play football for the rest of your life,” he said. “So, you decide how you want to play this last 15 minutes. And they finished the game. I am happy for a lot of those guys because they will remember it forever.”
For Gibson, the season has not been just about winning games, but helping Soldiers realize a dream.
“Jessie Lawson caught the touchdown that I thought sealed the game on a slant route,” he said. “We had just called a time out and we were trying to figure out what we were going to do we could have run the clock down some and kicked the field goal, but we wanted to score a touchdown and end the game. Jessie kept begging me, ‘Coach, just let me do the slant, I can do it, I can do it.’ I said, ‘All right man.’ He scored on that catch.
“He was one of the original players that played for me in that very first Doughboy team. He deployed for two years. He Facebooked me for two years and said, ‘can’t wait to get back, please tell me there is still a team the Doughboy Bowl was his last game and I think he got reassigned the next day.
“I think he went to Hawaii catch a touchdown one day, then off to Hawaii. Now, that is a good gig. But, that is the last thing he will remember he will remember that catch for the rest of his life.”
It was just one play of a long season, which Gibson said was a season of ups and downs.
“To start the season out with 80 guys, a lot of good athletes, I thought, ‘Wow, this is the year,’ he said. “Then we go in and beat Faulkner, a very good Faulkner team at home run up 50 something points I thought this was going to be a very good year.
“I saw the schedule and I knew what we could do. And then the wheels fell off.” Gibson said the amount of players dwindled at practice, sometimes to around 16 players.
“I understand the work comes first,” he said. And, you really can’t say anything. The turnovers were very frustrating. At the quarterback position, we turned the ball over and over. We had so many chances to put the game away.
“But, there was a core group of about 16 guys that never wavered and were at every practice. There were just a lot of highs and lows. We fought through it and made some changes and played well.”
Gibson said the LaGrange game stood out among the most difficult game where things seemed to come crashing down.
“We were up 28-6 at the end of the first quarter,” he said. “We had a chance to make it 35 and we throw an interception in the end zone. Next thing I know, they are up 42-28 going into the fourth. We fumbled three straight series in a row. My kicker is injured and we have no kicker. I’m watching this game we know what they are doing guys are blowing coverage, we’re throwing interceptions and turning the ball over and it’s so frustrating to know we should have won that game. That one really sank underneath my skin a little bit.” Gibson said injuries during the season affected the outcomes of the games, specifically with special teams and defense.
“We lost probably the best two players on the field,” he said. “We lost Francis (Leatiota) our nose tackle with a dislocated hand in the first game of the season, and another player, Sergio Robinson, who is just as good a player torn his anterior cruciate ligament. And he (Robinson) played for me for two years. He was a high college prospect the type of players the other teams have, and we had two. To lose those guys was devastating. To lose a nose guard and linebacker changes things. But, we made some good adjustment and some guys stepped up.”
“We talked to every player as they walked out the door,” he said. “We thanked them and told them we hope to see you again next year. We may get 10, 12 players back next year, some of them our core players we’d be pretty good.
“You could tell the players who had played for me two or three years and the guys who hadn’t. They know the system. To put things into perspective, we practiced 35 times the entire year. Every team we played practiced 35 times just to start the season. They had training camp, summer camp, weight rooms and class time.
“I look at where our team was the last two games and where we were at practice wise imagine if that would have been our first game and how much better we would have gotten if the last game of the season would have actually been our first. We just didn’t have the availability to have that many practices (as the teams we played).”
Gibson said he had many good memories of the season, and said, the support he received from Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the Maneuver Center of Excellence commander, was “huge.”
“I don’t know what it is like for the players,” he said, “but for me personally, to be at Doughboy Stadium and to have the CG of the post walk in the locker room and talk to the players and wish you luck and show a vested interest wanting these guys to be successful and was proud that they’re his Soldiers that meant a lot to me. “He spoke to the players before the Doughboy Bowl, and it was a great message. He spoke to them about being United States Soldiers and what that meant that they play as a team and they fight and fight and fight. He was very strong about what the Fort Benning Doughboys represent.”
When Gibson was asked if he wanted to be back again next year he didn’t hesitate.
“Oh yeah, I want to,” he said “It’s not always up to me, but I want to be.”