ASHLAND —The Ashland Grizzlies dedicated Friday night's season opener to an AHS student who lost his battle with cancer Thursday, then controlled their emotions long enough to squash Klamath Union 38-0 at Walter A. Phillips Field.
Danial White completed 20 of 28 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns — two to Matt Hedges — and Ashland's defense held the defending Skyline Conference champions to 141 yards of total offense while producing four sacks as the Grizzlies followed up their Pacific Rim Bowl win with another impressive showing.
"They challenged us to throw the ball and we did, and we made some nice throws," Ashland head coach Charlie Hall said. "I wanted to really see some of our receivers step up ... and they did. (Hedges) did a nice job, but we just gotta get it consistent. There are some playmakers out there."
In a game that was competitive for about one quarter, the Grizzlies scored on five of their six first-half possessions, including four touchdowns, taking a 31-0 halftime lead when White hit tight end Parker Layton on a 3-yard quick slant with seven seconds to go in the second quarter.
The Grizzlies added one more touchdown on their opening drive of the second half when White zipped a 26-yard pass to Shashi Penn, then were content to play solid defense and keep-away offense the rest of the way.
Already crackling with opening-night intensity, the game took on greater meaning minutes before kickoff when Ashland observed a moment of silence for Michael Bruhn, a student who died less than 24 hours prior.
"A lot of the team found out this morning at walk-through, and that was pretty rough," Hedges said of the Bruhn's passing. "He was going to be a senior and we went to elementary school together. It was a great experience that we could come out here and do that for him because he's watching over us."
Ashland had no trouble moving the ball against a Klamath Union team that crushed the Grizzlies last season and was picked to win the Skyline Conference again this season. But the Grizzlies made that prediction look like a major stretch, especially in the opening half.
The rout began with one big play. On the first snap of Ashland's second drive, White dropped back at the Grizzlies' own 47 and hit Hedges in stride 30 yards downfield for what turned out to be a 53-yard touchdown strike.
After forcing a KU punt, the Grizzlies took over again at their own 18 and drove 82 yards in 10 plays capped by White's 14-yard touchdown pass to Hedges on the first play of the second quarter. The march included two third-down conversions — a short pass to Hedges on third-and-one, and a quick out to Penn on third-and-nine.
After the Grizz defense held again, this time a quick three-and-out, Ashland took over at its own 28 and drove 72 yards in less than three minutes. In one of the highlights of the night, fullback Mason Montgomery caught a pass in the flat on third-and-three, deked out one defender and stiff-armed another before rumbling all the way to the Pelicans 30-yard line for a 35-yard gain. Three plays later, Mason Dow burst up the middle 14 yards to give Ashland a 20-0 lead.
The Grizzlies' defense aided their next two drives, as Klamath Union failed to get off punts following consecutive three-and-out possessions. Ashland made the Pelicans pay for the bad snaps, kicking a field goal after the first miscue and scoring a touchdown after the second.
"I think (Klamath Union) is a little bit down," Hall said. "They had a great senior class last year that manhandled us physically. I think our kids took that to heart having watched the film. Most of those kids are back from last year's team. I think there was a little response to embarrassment from last year on our part."
Ashland's final drive of the first half was another gem, with White coming through again by completing a clutch 20-yard strike to Sebastian Warren on third-and-10. That advanced the Grizzlies to the KU 15 with less than 50 seconds to go, and five plays later Layton held on to White's bullet after briefly bobbling the ball before falling to the turf in the end zone.
Hedges led the Grizzlies' receiving corps with three catches for 69 yards, while Layton added five catches for 48 yards and Penn four grabs for 30 yards.
Ryne Robitz gained 82 of Ashland's 162 rushing yards, as Ashland's balanced attack produced 400 yards of total offense to Klamath Union's 141.
The Pelicans' best chance to score may have come on the final play of the second quarter, when Dave Ovgard fielded Ashland's kickoff and broke through the Grizzlies' containment before being chased down at the Ashland 40 for a 57-yard return. Besides that, the Pelicans were bullied by the bigger, faster Grizzlies, who held KU to 53 yards rushing on 40 carries and pushed the Pelicans back 31 yards on their four sacks.
"We had one returner on defense from last year and two on offense, so it's a really young group," Klamath Union head coach Tom Smith said. "We saw a lot of good things, but a lot of little things that need to be cleaned up adds up to a lot of points for the other team. And this is probably one of the best Ashland teams I've seen in about five years. They're just solid across the board — defensively, offensively, they have a pretty complete package."