It was just a friendly competition between host brothers and an opportunity to break the ice on the field, but if Monday’s Ashland versus Japan multi-sport battle at Raider Stadium is any indication Pacific Rim Bowl XIV is going to be a great game.
The Ashland Grizzlies and Japanese all-stars took the field together for the first time and proved to be an even match, splitting the first four head-to-head competitions before Ashland out-pulled the Japanese in a spirited tug of war battle to walk off the field victorious.
The teams also faced off in a Frisbee partner throw, a soccer penalty kick-off, an obstacle course and a wide receiver gauntlet.
“It was kind of more for fun, but some people get more into it,” Ashland senior tight end/linebacker Bendon Joss-Bentley said.
The three-hour showdown usually piggybacks onto Ashland’s annual Coach Kitchell Summer Competition but OSAA rules made that impossible this year. Instead, the Kitchell Competition, which brings together schools from throughout the Rogue Valley, was held last week and Monday’s five-sport battle included only Ashland and Japan.
Japan trailed 2-1 entering the receiver gauntlet then promptly dominated their hosts to force a dead heat heading into the tug of war. Living up to their reputation from past PRB’s, the Japanese receivers were quick and mistake-free, notching a combined time that bested their Ashland counterparts by more than 20 seconds.
“They smoked us,” Ashland head coach Charlie Hall said of the receiver battle. “We dropped way too many passes, and that just goes to show you, you can be fast, but if you don’t catch the ball it doesn’t matter. They were efficient, they didn’t drop any balls and they had two guys that were faster than our best guys. So we have our work cut out for us (in the game Friday).”
That victory by Japan infused a little extra drama into the always-entertaining tug of war, which is divided into two matches — one for the linemen and one for the skill players. Ashland won both, outlasting Japan in a hard-fought, 50-second linemen tug before cruising to a relatively quick victory in the skill-players battle.
“They had some big guys but usually they’re known for being the quicker, small guys, so I didn’t have many doubts about the tug of war,” Ashland senior receiver/ defensive back Shashi Penn said. “We’ve always been good at that. But it’s fun to be out here with all these guys. It was a great time.”
After each tug of war ended, the two teams exchanged hugs and handshakes. Then they watched a performance by a local dance team, posed for pictures and dispersed.
The first practices of the week, for both teams, were held Monday morning. An alumni social was held Monday night at Standing Stone Brewery.
Monday’s competition was the second get-together for the two teams since the Japanese arrived Sunday afternoon. The PRB barbecue at Emigrant Lake was held Sunday. Afterward, some of the Ashland players took their host brothers out for a little sightseeing.
“I showed them downtown,” Ashland senior fullback/linebacker Michael Pruitt said. “I took them to Yogurt Hut and they really liked that. They got some heavy ice cream, then I showed them the reservoir, stuff like that. I’ll show them some more today — we’re going to go bowling later on.”
Pruitt said his host brothers were also impressed with Ashland’s small-town charm.
“They just like seeing all the different shops, how closely nit together everything is. And the people, how friendly everybody is with each other. They kind of marvel at how beautiful Ashland is. They just kept saying that over and over.”
Southern Oregon University president Roy Saigo delivered a speech prior to the action Monday. He’ll also be one of the speakers at the Pacific Rim Bowl Peace Ceremony, today at noon at the band shell in Lithia Park.
Hall said Saigo reminded the players what the Pacific Rim Bowl is all about.
“(Saigo) was awesome,” Hall said. “He played college football and college baseball, and he just talked about what a great experience this is, and talked about diversity in our community and how this is a big part of that.”
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or email@example.com.