Competition, camaraderie shared equally in Tomodachi Bowl
TOKYO – Caeleb Ricafrente took his dream season one step further earlier this month in his final football game as a high school player.
Last fall, The Matthew C. Perry senior led the Pacific in touchdowns with 28, led the Samurai in yards rushing and to their first Far East Division II title with a 44-6 home win over Humphreys.
Now, he was wearing the colors of Team USA and was all smiles following the sixth Tomodachi Bowl on March 12, despite Team USA losing for the second time in three years to Team Rising Sun 27-14 at Tokyo’s Amino Vital Stadium.
“For sure, it was definitely a good time,” Ricafrente said after leading Team USA in rushing with 40 yards and scoring the team’s only offensive touchdown. “You make friends with players on other teams, and we had more this year than ever.”
Indeed, Team USA was comprised of 40 players from 12 DODEA Pacific schools, the most schools ever represented, including Guam High for the first time. It sent Solomon White, its multipurpose senior, who led Team USA with 98 yards total offense.
Team USA went up against a team of Japanese high school seniors and first-year college players in a game that commemorates the partnership between Japan’s and America’s militaries in Operation Tomodachi following the earthquake and tsunami six years ago.
The game featured plenty of goodwill, including the return of Larry Donovan, for 18 years a coach in Japan’s semi-pro X-League and coach of Montana in the 1984 Mirage Bowl, at the time the only college game played outside the United States.
He was reunited with Team USA’s offensive coordinator Roy Tomlinson of American School In Japan. Tomlinson, Army Class of ’86, was with the Cadets team staring across the field at Donovan and the Grizzlies lo’ those 33 years ago. West Point won 45-31.
“I like it,” said Donovan, 75, now residing in Blaine, Wash., on the Canadian border. “I have many good friends here.”
The game also featured plenty of defense. It took eight series before either team scored, with Rising Sun going up 14-0 before Ricafrente cut the gap to 14-7 after Team USA’s only sustained drive of the day. Team Rising Sun outgained Team USA 258-159.
The second-half kickoff also featured some chicanery, as Kubasaki’s Anthony Macaluso faked a return reverse to Kinnick’s Chauncey Jamerson and sprinted 95 yards for a game-tying touchdown. Macaluso had 116 yards on three returns and one of two Team USA interceptions.
“He’s our kick-return whisperer,” a smiling Kubasaki coach Fred Bales said. He called that same play two other times during the Dragons’ regular season, each successfully.
Amid the handshakes, group photographs and selfies taken after the contest, awards were also handed out, including the first one earned by a Humphreys player.
Owen “Thor” Williams, who took the game’s Special Award. Macaluso was named the game’s Most Impressive Player. And one of Ricafrente’s offensive escorts, senior Lucas Holsopple, was named the game’s outstanding lineman. “Surprising, but great,” he said with a smile.
After three years of domination in the series by Team USA, Japan has now won two of three, outscoring the Americans 133-62 over that span.
“Now, we have a rivalry,” one observer said as the fans exited the field. In the most friendly of ways, of course.