Archive for November, 2013

College football: Week 14 (the gray edition)

Monday, November 25th, 2013

I realize I’m past the age of 50.

I realize I’m a traditionalist.

I realize that I probably don’t understand what young athletes want today.

Just consider this a sincere plea from a native Arkansan who has always loved my state’s college football teams.

To whom it may concern: We want our Razorbacks back in 2014.

Our Razorbacks don’t wear gray uniforms.

And they certainly don’t wear gray helmets.

Our Razorbacks wear red helmets. They also wear red jerseys at home.

There. I said it.

I feel better.

In the blog post last week, I picked the Razorbacks and asked “why not?” I expected the game to be close and relatively low scoring, calling it Arkansas 24, Mississippi State 21.

It was close, and it was low scoring by today’s standards. But this Arkansas team just doesn’t know how to win, does it? So we have the first eight-game losing streak in University of Arkansas history. This team has already tied the record for most losses in a season. The Hogs went 2-8 in 1950, 2-8 in 1952, 3-8 in 1990 and 4-8 in 2012. A loss at LSU on Friday will result in the most losses in school history.

It also was the first time for Mississippi State to beat Arkansas in consecutive years. Arkansas is 15-6-1 against Mississippi State since joining the Southeastern Conference and had been 9-0-1 against MSU in games played in Arkansas in the SEC era. These two schools like to play overtime games. Arkansas won overtime games at Starkville in 1996, 2000 and 2010. There was also a 13-13 tie in 1993.

Silver linings?

Well, Arkansas’ record at War Memorial Stadium is still a stellar 149-48-5. Let’s not blame it on War Memorial.

Meanwhile, the Razorbacks started seven true freshmen on Saturday. So a lot of young players are getting experience.

Despite the Razorbacks’ awful season, college football remains fun. After 13 consecutive Saturdays attending college football games, I hope to hibernate this week and watch a whole lot of football. Yes, I’ll have the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night while eating leftovers (I love cold cornbread dressing). Yes, I’ll watch the Arkansas-LSU game on Friday while eating more leftovers.

Saturday will be especially fun as I check in on traditional in-state rivalries such as Florida State at Florida, Georgia at Georgia Tech and Clemson at South Carolina while polishing off the leftovers (there’s no better man’s holiday than Thanksgiving since it combines football and food).

Then there’s the Iron Bowl, which might just become as big a rivalry as the Battle of the Ravine if those folks over in Alabama will continue working at it.

I had the privilege of attending four Iron Bowls back when they were all played at Birmingham’s Legion Field. It’s a special rivalry, and the stakes have never been bigger than this year.

Auburn has had two weeks to prepare for the game. Alabama, meanwhile, warmed up with a 49-0 victory over Chattanooga as A.J. McCarron became the school’s winningest quarterback. Think about that. Think of all the great quarterbacks who have played at Alabama through the decades. McCarron now has more wins than any of them with a 36-2 record as a starter.

A few other notes from the SEC:

— Steve Spurrier might be getting old, but he’s still getting it done at South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won 17 consecutive games at home. Saturday’s 70-10 victory over Coastal Carolina marked Spurrier’s 75th victory in his nine seasons as South Carolina’s head coach. Before his arrival, South Carolina fans (among the most loyal in college football) were not used to winning consistently.

— Tennessee can’t seem to get off rock bottom. Tennessee now has had four consecutive losing seasons, the first time that has happened since 1903-06. Gen. Neyland must be rolling in his grave. Vanderbilt beat Tennessee for a second consecutive year for the first time since 1925-26. Maybe they should consider hiring James Franklin at Knoxville.

— Why does Kentucky even bother to field a football team? The Wildcats have now lost 15 consecutive SEC games.

— The shocker of the day last Saturday was Georgia Southern 26, Florida 20. Georgia Southern had come in as a four-touchdown underdog. Florida had entered the game 7-0 against FCS teams with an average margin of victory of 45 points in those seven games. Given the success of recent decades, it’s hard to comprehend that Florida is 4-7, has lost six consecutive games and will have its first losing season since 1979. Will Muschamp will make someone a good defensive coordinator next year.

— Missouri is for real. Missouri’s game against Texas A&M is going to be another fun contest to watch on Saturday as I reheat the sweet potatoes. After missing four games due to a shoulder injury, James Franklin is back at quarterback. The Tigers had no problem ending Ole Miss’ four-game winning streak as Mizzou improved to 10-1 overall and 6-1 in the SEC. Now Missouri is one win away from playing in the SEC championship game at Atlanta.

— LSU put together the game it had been looking for all season as Texas A&M fell to the Tigers in Baton Rouge by a score of 34-10. Here’s how Johnny Manziel put it: “We just got punched in the mouth tonight, and it wasn’t fun.” Manziel passed for 224 yards and a touchdown, but he was sacked twice and intercepted twice while completing just 16 of his 41 passes. LSU ended A&M’s 13-game streak of scoring 40 or more points. The game saw the lowest Aggie point and yardage totals since Manziel began starting at quarterback.

We should have quit picking games a week earlier as our percentage took a small hit with a 2-3 record last Saturday.

We’re 75-18 on the season.

As noted, we picked Arkansas to win a close game.

We also picked Henderson to win by four. Instead, the Reddies lost by five in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

We figured Sam Houston State would defeat UCA in Conway. It was good to see the Bears go out on a winning note to end a season that didn’t live up to expectations.

We correctly picked ASU to defeat winless Georgia State, but it was much more difficult than expected. The Red Wolves had to stop a two-point conversion attempt and then recover an onside kick with two minutes left to hang on 35-33 in Jonesboro on Saturday afternoon. ASU trailed 17-7 at halftime and was outgained 432 yards to 290 yards for the game. The Red Wolves were just one of 12 on third-down attempts. In the end, four turnovers doomed 0-11 Georgia State as Arkansas State improved its record to 7-4 overall and 5-1 in the Sun Belt Conference.

UCA finished the year at 7-5 overall and 4-3 in the Southland Conference with its 49-31 upset of a Sam Houston team that had come in ranked ninth in the FCS. UCA forced six turnovers. Junior quarterback Ryan Howard was 24 of 36 passing for the Bears for 349 yards and four touchdowns in his sixth start since replacing the injured Wynrick Smothers. Sophomore quarterback Taylor Reed, the son of El Dorado High School head football coach Scott Reed, also threw a touchdown pass for UCA.

The other prediction we got correct (in addition to picking ASU to win) was picking UAPB to lose. In 2012, UAPB won the SWAC championship. In 2013, the Golden Lions went 2-9 overall and 2-7 in conference play. The season ended in Texas on a cold Saturday afternoon with a 43-23 loss to Prairie View A&M. Prairie View had 597 yards of offense and scored the game’s first 22 points.

For a second consecutive season, Henderson went undefeated in the regular season and then lost its first game in the NCAA Division II playoffs. Last year it was Missouri Western that beat the Reddies. This year it was St. Cloud State out of Minnesota that won at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia. St. Cloud escaped with a 40-35 victory as the 11-1 Reddies committed four costly turnovers. The Reddies are 21-2 during the past two seasons with both losses coming in the playoffs.

The bad news for Great American Conference opponents of the Reddies is that Henderson quarterback Kevin Rodgers still has another year. He passed for 567 yards on Saturday and now has 10,076 career passing yards.

Let’s hope that Harding and Ouachita can pick up victories in their bowl games on Dec. 7 over Lone Star Conference teams to earn the GAC some respect.

Here are the picks for this week:

LSU 42, Arkansas 17 — Good riddance to the 2013 Razorback season.

Western Kentucky 35, Arkansas State 31 — We’re hoping the Red Wolves will take down Bobby Petrino’s Hilltoppers in Bowling Green on Saturday afternoon, but we’re giving the advantage to the home team. Western Kentucky is 7-4 overall and 3-3 in Sun Belt Conference play. The Hilltoppers have won three consecutive games. The seven victories were over Kentucky, Morgan State, Navy, Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia State, Army and Texas State. The losses came against Tennessee, South Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette and Troy.

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Rex’s Rankings: The final edition

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Strange things can happen in football when it rains.

It rained Friday night. And it was cold.

Pulaski Academy, ranked No. 1 all season in Class 5A, went down.

Camden Fairview, ranked No. 2 all season in Class 5A, also went down.

Don’t just blame it on the weather. Pulaski Academy lost to a very good Morrilton team. Camden Fairview lost to a very good Batesville team.

Those two games did shake up the rankings. These will be the final rankings of the season. Once we get to this point in the season, it’s time to let the games on the field do all the talking.

In Class 7A, three of the four semifinal teams are from central Arkansas. That’s quite a change from recent years, which have seen northwest Arkansas teams dominate the state’s largest classification. Bentonville could well keep the title in the northwest, but Conway, Cabot and North Little Rock have the talent necessary to win two more games. It’s going to be a fun final two weeks in Class 7A.

In Class 6A, I still don’t see anyone who can challenge Greenwood.

In Class 5A, the Alma-Batesville and Hope-Morrilton games this Friday night should be dandies. All four teams have what it takes to bring home a state championship — talent, tradition, a good coaching staff.

In Class 4A, there’s a state championship-type game being played in the quarterfinals this week as Arkadelphia travels to Warren. If you were to force me to make a prediction at this point, I would tell you that the state champion will be either the winner of the Warren-Arkadelphia game or Pine Bluff Dollarway.

Class 3A and Class 2A remain highly competitive with all of our ranked teams capable of winning it all.

We’ll see you at War Memorial Stadium the first two weekends of December.

Here are the updated rankings:

Overall

1. Greenwood

2. Cabot

3. Bentonville

4. North Little Rock

5. Conway

6. Arkadelphia

7. Pine Bluff

8. Batesville

9. Morrilton

10. Alma

Class 7A

1. Cabot

2. Bentonville

3. North Little Rock

4. Conway

5. Springdale Har-Ber

Class 6A

1. Greenwood

2. Pine Bluff

3. Jonesboro

4. El Dorado

5. Lake Hamilton

Class 5A

1. Batesville

2. Morrilton

3. Alma

4. Hope

5. Pulaski Academy

Class 4A

1. Arkadelphia

2. Booneville

3. Pine Bluff Dollarway

4. Warren

5. Lincoln

Class 3A

1. Charleston

2. Harding Academy

3. Glen Rose

4. Hoxie

5. Smackover

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. East Poinsett County

3. Carlisle

4. Des Arc

5. Bearden

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College football: Week 13 (cold weather edition)

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

It’s going to be cold at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday morning when the Razorback game begins.

With duck season starting and Thanksgiving just a few days away, Arkansans will have plenty of excuses to miss a contest between a 3-7 team and a 4-6 team that are a combined 1-11 in Southeastern Conference play.

I’ll be there. So will my wife and our youngest son. Brenda Scisson has put together quite a Saturday morning brunch menu for the tailgate party we’ll attend.

I’ve never tried to hide my love for War Memorial Stadium. There are so many good memories of the high school and college football games I’ve seen there during the past 50 years. I’ve watched games from the stands. Arkansas games. Arkansas State games. UAPB games. Henderson in a bowl game (the 1975 Bicentennial Bowl, the first and only). Ouachita games. Arkansas Baptist games at the junior college level. Semipro games. High school games in the regular season and high school state championship games. High school all-star games.

I played there as a high school athlete in 1976.

I’ve covered games from the press box as a newspaper reporter and broadcast games on the radio.

Magic can sometimes happen there.

I was at the original Miracle on Markham. I was there again for the second Miracle on Markham. And I was there three years ago when Arkansas beat LSU to earn a spot in the Sugar Bowl.

Yes, I’ll be there Saturday. Stop by before the game, say hello and we’ll share a muffin with you.

Granted, there’s not a lot to get excited about in Arkansas on this fourth Saturday in November with the regular season winding down.

UCA will end a disappointing season with a game at home in Conway against a decent team from Sam Houston State.

UAPB will end an even more disappointing season on the road at Prairie View A&M.

Arkansas State will host an 0-10 squad from Georgia State in front of a bunch of empty seats in Jonesboro.

The best football of the day likely will take place in Arkadelphia as 11-0 Henderson hosts 10-1 St. Cloud State in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.

We were 5-1 on the picks last week.

The record for the season is now 73-15.

On to the picks for Week 13 of the college football season:

Arkansas 24, Mississippi State 21 — Why not? Why not pick these downtrodden Hogs? A Mississippi State team that’s not all that much better comes to Little Rock this weekend. Arkansas is playing its final home game of the season and should be loose since there’s frankly nothing to lose at this point. It’s Mississippi State that must win its final two games to become bowl eligible. So the pressure is on the Bulldogs. MSU has only managed to defeat Alcorn State from the SWAC, Troy from the Sun Belt, Bowling Green from the MAC and Kentucky (which is from the SEC but might as well be from the Southland Conference when it comes to football). I was there when Bobby Petrino’s first team — which was not a good one — defeated LSU in late November at War Memorial Stadium. So why not?

Arkansas State 35, Georgia State 19 — Arkansas State moved to 6-4 overall and 4-1 in the Sun Belt Conference last Saturday night with an impressive 38-21 victory in Jonesboro against Texas State. The win made ASU bowl eligible for a third consecutive season, but the Red Wolves probably could use another victory or two to actually make it to a bowl game. ASU gained 328 yards on the ground against a Texas State squad that had come in holding teams to an average of 106.2 yards rushing per game. Quarterback Adam Kennedy had 78 yards rushing on 18 carries. Georgia State’s 10 losses have come at the hands of Samford, Chattanooga, West Virginia, Jacksonville State, Alabama, Troy, Texas State, Louisiana-Monroe, Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Sam Houston State 28, UCA 24 — A talented Sam Houston State team rolls into Conway for Saturday afternoon’s game. The Bearkats are 8-3. The victories have come against Houston Baptist, Texas Southern, Incarnate Word, Eastern Washington, Lamar, Northwestern State of Louisiana, Stephen F. Austin and Nicholls State. The losses have been to Texas A&M, McNeese State and Southeastern Louisiana. UCA, which has been beset by injuries this entire 2013 season, escaped Thibodaux, La., last Saturday with a 17-10 victory over Nicholls State. UCA, which had lost its previous two games to Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana, is now 6-5 overall and 3-3 in the Southland Conference. The Bears need to pull the upset Saturday for a winning season.

Prairie View A&M 38, UAPB 33 — The only contest we didn’t pick correctly last week was the UAPB game. We picked the Golden Lions to win their game against Alabama A&M. They lost, 50-42. It just hasn’t paid this fall to go with UAPB, which is 2-8 overall and 2-6 in the SWAC. Golden Lion quarterback Ben Anderson did have another fine performance last Saturday. He completed 21 of his 35 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Anderson needs to have another big game for UAPB to end its season on a winning note. Prairie View is 5-6. The victories have been over Texas Southern, Alabama A&M, Stephen F. Austin, Grambling State and Mississippi Valley State. The losses have come at the hands of Texas State, Southern University, Alabama State, Jackson State, Alcorn State and Abilene Christian.

Henderson 34, St. Cloud 30 — The Reddies completed their second consecutive undefeated regular season with a dramatic 60-52 triple overtime victory in the Battle of the Ravine against Ouachita. It was one of the best college football games I’ve ever witnessed. Now, 11-0 Henderson tries to come down off that high and advance in the Division II playoffs, something the Reddies were unable to do last year. In 2012, Henderson received a first-round bye but then lost in Arkadelphia to Missouri Western in the second round. St. Cloud is 10-1. This marks the fifth appearance in the Division II playoffs for St. Cloud and the third appearance in the past four years. The winner of Saturday’s game at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia must travel to Minnesota State-Mankato for the second round. I’m cold just thinking about it.

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Rex’s Rankings: The playoffs continue

Monday, November 18th, 2013

One week down in the high school football playoffs.

What do we know?

In Class 7A, we know that two-time defending state champion Fayetteville (which had started the season 8-0) proved to be a pretender rather than a contender, losing its final three games. Cabot, Bentonville, North Little Rock and Conway all have the talent necessary to win the title. We do know there will be a team from central Arkansas in the title game this year.

In Class 6A, it’s still Greenwood and everyone else. It’s the Year of the Bulldog.

In Class 5A, Pulaski Academy overcame a big deficit against Watson Chapel on Friday night. PA is still the favorite to win a state championship but Camden Fairview, Batesville, Morrilton, Hope and Alma all have the talent to upset the Bruins.

In Class 4A, Arkadelphia shows no signs of slowing down, but a quarterfinal game at Warren could determine the state championship. The Lumberjacks know how to win in the playoffs.

In Class 3A, there are at least six teams — Charleston, Harding Academy, Glen Rose, Hoxie, Smackover and Barton — capable of winning it all.

In Class 2A, Junction City remains the favorite with East Poinsett County, Dierks, Gurdon, Carlisle, Des Arc and Bearden all having the ability to get hot at just the right time.

Here are the rankings:

Overall

1. Greenwood

2. Cabot

3. Bentonville

4. Pulaski Academy

5. North Little Rock

6. Conway

7. Arkadelphia

8. Camden Fairview

9. Fort Smith Southside

10. Springdale Har-Ber

Class 7A

1. Cabot

2. Bentonville

3. North Little Rock

4. Conway

5. Fort Smith Southside

Class 6A

1. Greenwood

2. Pine Bluff

3. Lake Hamilton

4. Jonesboro

5. El Dorado

Class 5A

1. Pulaski Academy

2. Camden Fairview

3. Batesville

4. Morrilton

5. Hope

Class 4A

1. Arkadelphia

2. Booneville

3. Pine Bluff Dollarway

4. Warren

5. Gosnell

Class 3A

1. Charleston

2. Harding Academy

3. Glen Rose

4. Hoxie

5. Smackover

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. East Poinsett County

3. Dierks

4. Gurdon

5. Carlisle

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The 87th Battle of the Ravine

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

A longer version of this story can be found at SportingLifeArkansas.com.

They’ll play another Battle of the Ravine in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon.

As has been the case for almost every football game played between Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University since the early 1960s, I’ll be there.

The two Arkadelphia universities — one of which has Baptist roots and one of which has Methodist roots (the Baptists kept Ouachita, but the Methodists gave Henderson to the state) — first played each other in football in 1895. The series was suspended from 1951 until 1963 due to excessive vandalism. When they started playing again in 1963, I was 4 years old. You can bet I was there.

So it has been 50 years since my first Battle of the Ravine.

Half a century.

That’s hard for me to fathom. I always feel like a boy again during Battle of the Ravine week. I become giddy with excitement about the upcoming game and find it hard to concentrate on other tasks. Even though I’m in my 31st season of doing the play-by-play on radio of Ouachita games, I can assure you that the butterflies in my stomach will be such that I’ll be almost ill when we sign on Saturday afternoon.

I hope that never changes — that sense of anticipation, that realization of just how much this series has been a part of my life and the life of my family (my father played football at Ouachita and met my mother there).

That first game in 1895 was on Thanksgiving as Ouachita defeated what was then Arkadelphia Methodist College by a score of 8-0. For many years, the game was played on Thanksgiving.

Want to hear more?

How about 1949 when Ouachita trailed with seven minutes left in the game by a score of 14-0? Ike Sharp successfully executed three onside kicks for Ouachita in those final seven minutes and Otis Turner, who was known as the Magic Toe and later in life would be appointed as a judge on the Arkansas Supreme Court, kicked the field goal that gave the Tigers a 17-14 victory.

Ike Sharp’s son, David, just happens to be in his 15th year as Ouachita’s athletic director. And Otis Turner’s son, Tab, just happens to be one of the top trial lawyers in the country.

Ike Sharp’s other son, the late Paul Sharp, won an NAIA national football championship as the head coach at Southwestern Oklahoma.

Otis Turner’s other son, Neal, was once the chief of staff in the governor’s office. You guessed it. Both Sharp boys and both Turner boys played football at Ouachita.

Family ties run deep in this series.

I wasn’t around for that game, of course, but I was around in 1972 when Ouachita used a 47-yard touchdown run by hometown freshman sensation Luther Guinn with 2:23 remaining to pull within one point at 14-13. Legendary Ouachita Coach Buddy Benson decided to go for two in that era before overtime. Ouachita quarterback Mike Carroll connected with Danny Jack Winston, and the Tigers won, 15-14. Buddy Benson is no longer with us. But his grandson, Benson Jordan, will be the quarterback for Ouachita on Saturday.

Did I mention that family ties run deep in this series?

How about 1975, which remains the greatest football game I’ve ever seen at any level? I’ve had the chance in my career to cover the Super Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and a lot more. This game beat them all.

Henderson came in undefeated. Ouachita was 8-1.

Ouachita faced a fourth-and-25 on that cold, gray Saturday before Thanksgiving. The Tigers trailed 20-14, and time was running out. Ouachita’s quarterback was Bill Vining Jr. His father is Bill Vining Sr., the Ouachita head basketball coach and athletic director at the time. Bill Vining Sr. also had played in the series. Vining Jr.’s mother had been kidnapped by Henderson students back when she was the Ouachita homecoming queen.

By the way, have I told you that the family ties run deep in this series?

Bill Vining Jr. completed a 25-yard pass to Gary Reese. The chains came out.

If the Tigers were short, Henderson simply would need to kneel down a couple of times to have an undefeated regular season and a trip to the NAIA national playoffs. The chains were stretched, and it was still so close that the referee had to drop to his knees to examine the ball. When he stood up, he signaled that it was a Ouachita first down.

I was a high school student and standing on the Ouachita sideline that day. I can picture it as if it were yesterday.

Two plays later, Vining connected with Ken Stuckey for a touchdown, and Russell Daniel kicked the extra point to give the Tigers a 21-20 victory. Ouachita and Henderson tied for the AIC title. Ouachita was one of the four teams selected for the NAIA playoffs, and Henderson headed to the first (and final) Bicentennial Bowl at War Memorial Stadium.

How about two years ago?

Ouachita had already wrapped up the first Great American Conference championship and was hosting Henderson. The Reddies roared to a 41-17 lead late in the third quarter behind a freshman quarterback named Kevin Rodgers. Some of those in the stadium headed for the exits at that point.

An important lesson: Never leave a Battle of the Ravine early regardless of the margin.

Ouachita quarterback Casey Cooper hit wide receiver Brett Reece for a six-yard touchdown.

Next, Cooper found tight end Phillip Supernaw for an eight-yard touchdown.

Finally, sophomore tailback Chris Rycraw scored on a 12-yard run with 3:47 left to make it a one-possession game, 41-36.

On the kickoff, Henderson fumbled, and Ouachita’s Ryan Newsom recovered at the Reddie 29. Henderson held on downs, and the Reddies got the ball back with 2:15 remaining.

Henderson needed just one first down to be able to run out the clock. That first down never came. Christian Latoof’s punt carried 35 yards, and Ouachita took over at its 47 with 43 seconds on the A.U. Williams Field clock.

Cooper completed a 13-yard pass to Rycraw. Then, a 29-yard pass to Reece gave the Tigers the ball at the Henderson 11. On third-and-five from the Reddie six, Cooper completed a pass to Reece, who was pulled down a yard away from the end zone. A Cooper pass on first-and-goal was broken up by Chuck Obi.

The clock showed six-tenths of a second remaining.

Ouachita had time for one play.

Rycraw got the handoff on a dive up the middle. There was a huge pile at the goal line.

None of the officials signaled touchdown, though many on the home side thought Rycraw had scored.

Henderson had held on, 41-36.

That play will be debated, cussed and discussed in Arkadelphia as long as there are people alive who attended the game. Henderson fans will tell you it was the greatest game in the history of the series. Since I bleed purple, I’ll tell you that the 1975, 1982 and 2008 games were better. For a Ouachita man, the end of the 2011 game is just too painful to think about.

Kevin Rodgers, the quarterback who led his team to victory as a freshman that day, is a junior now. Last year, he helped guide Henderson to the first undefeated, untied regular season in school history. On Saturday, Rodgers will try to do it again. He’s a special athlete and a class individual to boot.

Chris Rycraw, the Ouachita tailback who got the call on that final play in 2011, will be playing his final game as a Tiger, the memories of the 2011 disappointment still fresh on his mind. Like Rodgers, he’s a special athlete and a class individual.

Henderson is 10-0 and ranked fourth nationally in NCAA Division II by the American Football Coaches Association.

Ouachita is 7-2 and only three or four plays away from being undefeated after close losses to Harding and Southern Arkansas.

Henderson is heavily favored but this is, after all, the Battle of the Ravine. Only U.S. Highway 67 separates A.U. Williams Field from Carpenter-Haygood Stadium. Early Saturday afternoon, state troopers will stop traffic on the highway, and the Reddies will walk across to play after having put on their uniforms in their own dressing room.

At about 5 p.m., the troopers will stop traffic again, and the Reddies will trudge back across the highway.

They’ve played 86 times through the years. Henderson has won 41 times. Ouachita has won 39 times. There have been six ties.

Of the 86 meetings between Henderson and Ouachita, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less 38 times with Ouachita holding a 19-13-6 advantage in those games.

I realize my hometown bias. But others from outside Arkansas who have experienced the Battle of the Ravine tell me it’s indeed among the great rivalries in all of college football. It might not receive the attention of Auburn-Alabama, Texas-Oklahoma or Michigan-Ohio State, but the passion and intensity are no less real.

Those who have played in these games, coached in them, covered them as journalists or simply watched from the stands understand.

They understand that there are few things in sports than can compare to a rivalry between four-year schools that are within walking distance of each other.

They understand that in Arkadelphia, this is a battle that divides families.

If you’re a Tiger, you call it the Ouachita-Henderson game.

If you’re a Reddie, you refer to it as the Henderson-Ouachita game.

By the way, it’s maddening that the statewide newspaper and others have decided to use “Ouachita Baptist” and “Henderson State” on all references to the schools. No one associated with the schools talks that way. It’s simply Ouachita or Henderson.

If your team wins, you crow about it for the next 364 days until it is time to play again.

If your team loses, you feel the pain for the next year.

It’s Arkansas’ own football Civil War, a contest that once was promoted as the Biggest Little Football Game in America.

The lights have been on at both stadiums this week to discourage pranks. The signs have been covered. Ouachita students guard the Tiger statue in the middle of the campus to keep it from being painted red. Henderson students guard the fountain at the entrance to the school to keep it from being filled with purple suds.

Just how close are these schools to each other?

Consider the 1999 incident known in Arkadelphia as “Trashcam.”

A Henderson graduate assistant coach took a video camera into Arkadelphia’s Central Park, which overlooks the Ouachita practice field. As he was taping the Tiger practice, the graduate assistant was spotted by a Ouachita player. The graduate assistant sped away in his car, leaving the camera in a nearby trash can. When the camera was found with a Henderson identification tag on it, Ouachita athletic director David Sharp removed the video and then returned the camera to Henderson.

It was the proper thing to do.

The rivalry might be intense, but these folks have to live with each other 52 weeks a year. They sit in the same pews at church and find themselves next to each other in the waiting room at the dentist’s office.

I look at the clock and count the hours until Saturday’s kickoff.

I love this rivalry; I do love it so.

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College football: Week 12 (Battle of the Ravine)

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

It’s the week when the college football focus in Arkansas turns briefly from the Division I teams to Division II.

To be exact, it’s the week of the Battle of the Ravine in Arkadelphia.

It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year, given that I grew up within walking distance of the Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University stadiums. This series has been a big part of my life.

This year, Ouachita is good.

Henderson is very, very good.

Ouachita is 7-2 and only about three or four plays away from being undefeated. There were close losses to Harding University and Southern Arkansas University. This will be the Tigers’ bowl game, in essence, since their postseason hopes ended with the loss to SAU in Magnolia a couple of weeks ago.

Henderson is 10-0, going for its second consecutive undefeated regular season (an amazing feat at any level) and ranked fourth nationally in Division II by the American Football Coaches Association.

The Reddies likely are headed to the Division II playoffs regardless of the outcome Saturday afternoon. Henderson will enter the contest as a heavy favorite. That said, it’s a rivalry game in which strange things can happen. And Ouachita is much healthier than it was a year ago when the Reddies easily disposed of the Tigers in the final game of the regular season.

Kickoff is at 2 p.m. on the Ouachita side of U.S. Highway 67. A joint tailgate party begins early that morning on the Henderson side of the highway. Organizers are making a strong push this year to publicize the events surrounding the game, especially since the University of Arkansas has an open date and some Razorback fans might want to sample the only college football game in America in which the visiting team walks to a road game.

We were 7-1 on the picks last week, missing only on Arkansas State’s game at Louisiana-Monroe as the Red Wolves played their best football of the season.

The record for the year is 68-14.

On to the picks for Week 12:

Henderson 39, Ouachita 28 — Kevin Rodgers, Henderson’s junior quarterback, doesn’t lose games. At least not in the regular season. Rodgers, among the finest quarterbacks in Division II, continues to pile up impressive numbers as his team dominates its opponents. Henderson wrapped up its second consecutive Great American Conference title last week. Ouachita won the first GAC title in 2011, so the football championship has never been away from Arkadelphia in the young history of the conference. Henderson warmed up for the Battle of the Ravine by thumping a decent Southern Arkansas team by a score of 66-24. The Reddies set a single-game school record with 40 first downs. Across the street last Saturday, Ouachita warmed up by shutting out UAM during the game’s final 43 minutes en route to a 35-10 victory over the Boll Weevils. Ouachita had 344 yards rushing. Senior tailback Chris Rycraw from Bryant had 198 of those rushing yards on 29 carries. Ouachita’s veteran defense held the Boll Weevils to 67 yards rushing and 81 yards passing. The keys to Ouachita staying in the game this Saturday will be to get its running game going again, control the time of possession and thus limit the time Rodgers spends on the field. If Ouachita falls behind early and has to get into a passing duel with Henderson, it could get ugly for the Tigers, just like last year.

Arkansas State 30, Texas State 27 — As noted, Arkansas State played its best game to this point in the season when it went to Monroe last Saturday and dominated the second half en route to a 42-14 victory. The Red Wolves are 5-4 overall and 3-1 in the Sun Belt Conference. The score was tied 14-14 at halftime, but the second half belonged to the Red Wolves. It was the 10th consecutive conference road victory for ASU and the biggest margin of victory in a conference road game since the league was formed. Red Wolf quarterback Adam Kennedy passed for 235 yards and rushed for 102 yards. ASU finished the game with 259 yards rushing, the most since the season opener against UAPB. Texas State comes to Jonesboro on Saturday night (it’s too late in the year to be playing night games, by the way) with a 6-3 record. Most of the wins have come against weak opponents. The victories were by scores of 22-15 over Southern Mississippi, 28-3 over Prairie View A&M, 42-21 over Wyoming, 24-17 over Georgia State, 33-31 over South Alabama and 37-21 over Idaho. The losses were by scores of 33-7 to Texas Tech, 48-24 to Louisiana-Lafayette and 21-14 to Louisiana-Monroe. Ever wonder what happened to Dennis Franchione (Alabama fans are still trying to forget him)? Well, he’s in San Marcos coaching Texas State, my wife’s alma mater. We think Coach Fran will lose a close one in Jonesboro.

UAPB 21, Alabama A&M 20 — It’s a 3-7 Alabama A&M team hosting a 2-7 UAPB team in a SWAC game that’s hard to figure. We’ll go with the Golden Lions by a point since they’re the defending conference champions and have a bit of momentum following back-to-back victories over Mississippi Valley State and Grambling State. UAPB quarterback Ben Anderson was outstanding in the 45-42 victory over Grambling. He was 19 of 29 passing for 280 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed for another 192 yards on 21 keepers. Alabama A&M’s three victories have come against Grambling, Texas Southern and Alcorn State. The losses have been to Tuskegee, South Carolina State, Prairie View A&M, Mississippi Valley State, Southern University, Alabama State and Jackson State.

UCA 36, Nicholls State 34 — A disappointing season for the Bears became even worse last Saturday night in Conway as UCA gave up 58 points at home in a 58-31 loss to Southeastern Louisiana. There won’t be any playoff trips this year for UCA. The Bears are 5-5 overall and 2-3 in the Southland Conference. Southeastern Louisiana is alone atop the Southland standings at 8-2 overall and 5-0 in conference. Southeastern led only 24-17 at halftime but then scored 27 third-quarter points. The visitors outgained UCA 545 yards to 418 yards and had 343 yards on the ground. This week’s opponent, Coach Clint Conque’s alma mater, is not as talented as Southeastern. Nicholls State enters the contest with records of 4-6 overall and 1-4 in conference. The victories have come against Western Michigan, Langston, Arkansas Tech (by only 10 points) and Northwestern State. The losses have been to Oregon, Louisiana-Lafayette, Stephen F. Austin, McNeese State, Lamar and Sam Houston State.  Nicholls has lost its past four games.

Southern Arkansas 42, UAM 38 — It’s a south Arkansas battle between two teams with similar records. SAU is 5-4 both overall and in conference play. UAM is 4-5 in conference play and 5-5 overall. SAU was picked high going into the season and has been somewhat of a disappointment. UAM, meanwhile, has been a pleasant surprise following its 1-10 season of a year ago. Both teams are coming off lopsided losses in Arkadelphia, SAU at the hands of Henderson and UAM at the hands of Ouachita. This looks to be an evenly matched game. We’ll give the edge to the home team with the contest being played at Magnolia.

Harding 50, Arkansas Tech 31 — With two losses, Harding is out of the running for a spot in the Division II playoffs. But this talented group of Bisons can secure the host spot in that new bowl game at Texarkana with a victory in Russellville on Saturday afternoon. Harding improved its record to 7-2 last Saturday with a 52-30 victory over East Central Oklahoma. The Bison defense had 10 quarterback sacks in that game along with interception and fumble returns for touchdowns. The 10 sacks were a school record. East Central finished with a negative 21 yards rushing. Tech improved its overall record to 5-5 and its conference record to 5-4 by beating Southeastern Oklahoma in overtime at Russellville. Randy Velazquez kicked a 38-yard field goal to give the Wonder Boys a 37-34 victory. Ketrich Harmon rushed for 159 yards and Preston Conder passed for 326 yards for the Wonder Boys.

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Rex’s Rankings: It’s playoff time

Monday, November 11th, 2013

It’s playoff time across Arkansas.

What do we know after 10 weeks of the regular season?

In Class 7A, we know that Bentonville beat Fayetteville on Friday but that Fayetteville is capable of bouncing back and winning it all. The Purple Dogs have shown that the past two years.

Cabot may well be the best 7A team to come out of central Arkansas in recent seasons. North Little Rock. Conway, Fort Smith Southside and Springdale Har-Ber all have the talent to pull a surprise or two along the way.

In Class 6A, we know that it’s Greenwood and everyone else. It’s hard to see anyone challenging the Bulldogs in the playoffs.

In Class 5A, Pulaski Academy and Camden Fairview are the class of the division. But Batesville, Morrilton, Hope, Alma, Wynne and White Hall all could make some noise. Hope already has defeated Fairview and White Hall. The Bobcats are playing as well as anyone in the state right now.

In Class 4A, Arkadelphia has been No. 1 since the start of the season. The Badgers were dominant in the second half Friday night in a 42-10 rivalry game victory against a Malvern team that had come in with a record of 8-1. Pine Bluff Dollarway and Warren have the athletes to give the Badgers problems, though. In fact, Arkadelphia could find itself going on the road to Warren in the quarterfinals. That will be a state championship-type game.

In Class 3A, there are at least seven teams that have a chance of getting hot at the right time and winning a state title. They are Charleston, Harding Academy, Glen Rose, Hoxie, Smackover, Barton and Lamar.

Junction City is the big dog in Class 2A but could be challenged along the way by East Poinsett County, Dierks, Gurdon, Carlisle, Des Arc, Bearden or Hector.

Let the playoffs begin.

Here are the rankings:

Overall

1. Greenwood

2. Cabot

3. Bentonville

4. Pulaski Academy

5. North Little Rock

6. Conway

7. Arkadelphia

8. Camden Fairview

9. Fayetteville

10. Fort Smith Southside

Class 7A

1. Cabot

2. Bentonville

3. North Little Rock

4. Conway

5. Fayetteville

Class 6A

1. Greenwood

2. Pine Bluff

3. Lake Hamilton

4. Jonesboro

5. El Dorado

Class 5A

1. Pulaski Academy

2. Camden Fairview

3. Batesville

4. Morrilton

5. Hope

Class 4A

1. Arkadelphia

2. Booneville

3. Pine Bluff Dollarway

4. Warren

5. Gosnell

Class 3A

1. Charleston

2. Harding Academy

3. Glen Rose

4. Hoxie

5. Smackover

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. East Poinsett County

3. Dierks

4. Gurdon

5. Carlisle

 

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College football: Week 11

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

After having gone 13-0 on the picks the previous two weeks, our winning percentage took a bit of a hit last week with a 4-3 record.

UCA continues to be a disappointment. The Bears let us down with a loss to Northwestern State of Louisiana, which had come into the game with just a 3-5 record.

In the Great American Conference, we knew that the Ouachita-Southern Arkansas game would be close. We had picked Ouachita to win by a single point. Playing inspired football in the second half before a large homecoming crowd in Magnolia (while Ouachita was without its star senior running back, Chris Rycraw), the Muleriders won by eight points.

Arkansas Tech upset East Central Oklahoma on the road, something we didn’t see coming. Tech gets a little better with each passing week under its first-year head coach.

As for the Razorbacks, we called for a 40-30 Auburn victory. It was a 35-17 Auburn win that went about as expected.

Unfortunately, these Razorback games are becoming all too easy to pick.

Here’s the good news for Hog fans who are going on the road this weekend: The kickoff is early, and Oxford is a great place to spend a pretty fall afternoon. You can get the game out of the way with lots of time to spare. Eat downtown. Visit Square Books. Go to Rowan Oak. At least make your trip worthwhile even if the game is not.

Arkansas’ current six-game losing streak is its longest in 23 years. If you’re keeping count, that was the start of the glorious Jack Crowe era in Fayetteville.

Auburn continues to be the surprise of the Southeastern Conference. You must give Fort Smith native Gus Malzahn his due for getting the Tigers to 8-1. I’m sure last Saturday’s game was more important to Malzahn than he was letting on. He was 0-3 at Fayetteville as a visiting offensive coordinator. He lost 30-23 in 2008 when he was at Tulsa, he lost 44-23 in 2009 when he was at Auburn and he lost 38-14 in 2011 when he was at Auburn. That’s not to mention all of the Arkansans on the Auburn staff — Tim Horton, J.B. Grimes, Rhett Lashlee.

The other losing streaks of six or more games in Razorback history were in 1950, 1952, 1958 and 1990.

As noted, the record last week was 4-3, making the record 61-13 for the season.

Let’s move on to the picks for Week 11:

Ole Miss 27, Arkansas 17 — Hugh Freeze has done a great job in less than two seasons at Ole Miss. The Rebels had their fans excited with a 3-0 start that included victories over Vanderbilt, Southeast Missouri and Texas. Losses on the road to Alabama and Auburn followed. In one of the year’s most exciting games, Texas A&M dropped Ole Miss to 3-3 with a 41-38 victory at Oxford. Since then, the Rebels have upset LSU, 27-24, and cruised past Paul Petrino’s Idaho squad by a score of 59-14. This will mark the Rebels’ fourth consecutive game in Oxford. Some of their fans have probably never left The Grove during the past month. Ole Miss had an open date last Saturday, meaning the Rebels have had two weeks to heal and prepare for the Razorbacks.

Louisiana-Monroe 38, Arkansas State 34 — Razorback fans know all about UL-M quarterback Kolton Browning. Many thought Browning’s career was over earlier this season when he suffered a quadriceps tear in a loss to Tulane. But Browning, a tough competitor, returned. He completed 21 of his 31 passes last week against Troy for 354 yards and five touchdowns. Browning is the school’s all-time leading passer. Louisiana-Monroe is 5-4. Its victories have come by scores of 48-10 over Grambling, 21-19 over Wake Forest, 21-14 over Texas State, 38-10 over Georgia State and 49-37 over Troy. The losses have been by scores of 34-0 to Oklahoma, 70-7 to Baylor, 31-14 to Tulane and 31-10 to Western Kentucky. ASU heads to Monroe with a 4-4 record, having righted the ship in Mobile last Saturday with a 17-16 victory over South Alabama. The Red Wolves couldn’t score on seven first-half possessions and trailed 6-0 at the half of that game. They went ahead with 6:29 left in the game. Poor South Alabama has now lost five games by a total of 12 points.

Southeastern Louisiana 32, UCA 29 — UCA has yet to live up to expectations. The Bears are 5-4 overall and 2-2 in the Southland Conference following that 31-28 loss to Northwestern State. The Bears outgained the Demons 438 yards to 333 yards. UCA quarterback Ryan Howard finished 26 of 43 passing for 276 yards. The Bears will need to win their final three games to have a shot at a conference title and a third consecutive playoff berth. Southeastern Louisiana comes in red hot following a 41-7 thrashing of McNeese State in Lake Charles last weekend. Southeastern is 7-2 overall and 4-0 in conference play. A six-game winning streak includes victories of 34-31 over Samford, 35-3 over Incarnate Word, 56-14 over Stephen F. Austin, 37-22 over Northwestern State, 56-14 over Lamar and that big win over McNeese State. The game is in Conway. The Bears will have to have their best effort to have a chance.

UAPB 21, Grambling 19 — UAPB has had two weeks to prepare for a Grambling squad that has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this season. The Golden Lions started the season with seven consecutive losses and then got a victory at Mississippi Valley State. Grambling also started with seven consecutive losses, failed to show up for a game at Jackson State in an incident that received national media attention, lost 23-17 to Texas Southern after the players decided to end their boycott and then posted a 47-40 victory over Mississippi Valley State. We’ll give the Golden Lions a slight edge since they’re at home.

Henderson 47, Southern Arkansas 30 — The Reddies are 9-0 overall, 8-0 in the GAC, ranked No. 4 nationally in NCAA Division II and just two games away from going undefeated in the regular season for a second consecutive year. And the game against the Muleriders is in Arkadelphia. Henderson had five interceptions in the first half last week at Monticello en route to a 30-0 lead. The Reddies then let off the gas and ended up beating the Boll Weevils by a score of 37-21. Southern Arkansas was picked in the preseason to finish second in the conference behind Henderson. SAU went 8-2 in the regular season last year. Southern Arkansas failed to live up to expectations in the first part of the season but looked like its old self in the second half last week, coming from behind to defeat Ouachita, 31-23. Chris Terry caught three touchdown passes from Tyler Sykora in that game as the Muleriders improved to 5-3.

Ouachita 40, UAM 31 — Ouachita started the season 5-0 but has dropped two of its past three games. Granted, those losses were by narrow margins to two talented teams, Harding and Southern Arkansas. Granted, Ouachita was without its best receiver against Harding and without its best running back against SAU. But Ouachita had best not take a win over UAM for granted. The Tigers will have to come to play Saturday afternoon in Arkadelphia against a Boll Weevil team that is much improved over the group that finished 1-10 a year ago. These Weevils are 5-4 overall and 4-4 in conference play. A win in one of the final two games will secure a winning season.

Harding 36, East Central Oklahoma 22 — The Bisons are 6-2 following a 42-10 victory last Saturday at Southeastern Oklahoma. The Bisons rushed for 267 yards in that game while limiting Southeastern to just 24 yards rushing. If Harding can take care of business this week against East Central and next week against Arkansas Tech, it likely will find itself playing in that new bowl game at Texarkana on the first Saturday in December. East Central comes into Saturday afternoon’s game at Searcy with a 4-4 record.

Arkansas Tech 29, Southeastern Oklahoma 15 — As stated earlier, this is a Tech team that’s getting better. The Wonder Boys improved their record to 4-5 with that 26-17 victory at East Central Oklahoma. The Tech defense came up with five interceptions and a fumble recovery in the game. Southeastern Oklahoma comes to Russellville with a 2-7 record. Tech should be able to even its record at 5-5 and could finish with a winning record with an upset of Harding on Nov. 16.

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Presqu’ile: Almost an island

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Presqu’ile is a Creole word meaning “almost an island.”

For decades, it was the name of a gathering spot for the Murphy family of El Dorado at Henderson’s Point on the Mississippi Gulf Coast near Pass Christian.

Hurricane Katrina hit in late August 2005 and wiped Henderson’s Point clean.

In honor of that part of their family heritage, the Murphy family named a winery in the Santa Maria Valley of California after the Gulf Coast compound.

Many of those who attend the Nov. 21 Arkansas food and wine gala at the Capital Hotel in downtown Little Rock will be sampling Presqu’ile wines for the first time. The event will raise money for the new Arkansas exhibit at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. Tickets are $125 each. Those desiring more information should call (501) 661-9911 or email morris.leslie@sbcglobal.net.

A bit of background on the Murphy family and Henderson’s Point is in order.

First, the Murphy family.

Charles Murphy Sr. already had extensive timber and banking interests in south Arkansas when oil was discovered in 1907 in the Caddo Field north of Shreveport.

“Murphy decided that his timber company should purchase land on a scattered, noncontiguous pattern to provide more exposure to any oil development,” John Ragsdale wrote in the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “When the large Smackover Field in Ouachita and Union counties was discovered in 1922, Murphy had oil royalty interests in it. He and joint operators owned about 100,000 acres in the Union County area. In 1936, Phillips Petroleum discovered a small oil field at Snow Hill in Ouachita County, but the area’s extent was limited. Murphy preferred to spread drilling and production risks. He did not have an extensive operating company but rather owned interests in different operations.

“In 1937, an abandoned Phillips Petroleum well in western Union County, where some Murphy acreage was located, was re-entered by the Lion Oil Refining Co., which discovered deeper multiple zones between 5,000 and 8,000 feet below the surface in the Shuler Field. This included the Smackover limestone, which led to development of fields in the Smackover limestone throughout south Arkansas. Then, in 1944, Murphy land was included in the development of Louisiana’s Delhi Field, a major oil producer. This was the largest field for Murphy.”

Charles Murphy Sr. had moved to El Dorado in 1904 to operate a bank. By 1907, he owned 13 banks. He built a sawmill at Cargile in Union County and later established a railroad to supply the mill with timber from north Louisiana and south Arkansas.

Charles Murphy Jr. took over the family businesses in 1941 at the age of just 21 after his father suffered a stroke. Murphy Jr. had attended Gulf Coast Military Academy at Gulfport, Miss., at age 16 and had learned to love yachting. Much later in life, he would write two books on the sport, “Yachting Smart” and “Yachting Far.” He received expert tutoring, especially in French. Murphy Jr. graduated from El Dorado High School in 1938 and got married in October of that year.

Murphy Jr. spent three years in the Army during World War II. In 1946, he and his three sisters — Caroline Keller, Bertie Deming and Theodosia Nolan — pooled their interests to form C.H. Murphy & Co. In 1950, that company was transformed into the Murphy Corp., with Murphy Jr. as its president. He would serve as president until 1972 and as chairman of the board until 1994.

Murphy Corp., which had gone public in 1956, became Murphy Oil Corp. in 1964. The first foreign exploration for the company occurred in Venezuela in 1957. That was followed by production in Iran in 1966, the North Sea and Libya in 1969, Spain in 1979, Ecuador in 1987 and the Gulf of Mexico in 1988. Deltic Farm & Timber Co. was spun off from Murphy Oil Corp. in 1996 to form Deltic Timber Corp. Deltic is the developer of the Chenal neighborhood in west Little Rock and has timber holdings in Arkansas and Louisiana. Earlier this year, the Murphy USA subsidiary was spun off to form a company that focuses on retail sales, primarily at stores associated with Walmart.

Murphy Jr., an erudite man, served on the state Board of Higher Education and on the boards of Hendrix College at Conway and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.. He established the Murphy Institute of Political Economy at Tulane University in New Orleans. He died at his home in El Dorado in March 2002.

Murphy Jr.’s son Madison would go on to become chairman of the powerful Arkansas Highway Commission.

Next, Pass Christian and Henderson’s Point.

Henderson’s Point on the Gulf Coast was named for John Henderson Sr., a U.S. senator from Mississippi from 1839-45. Along with several partners, Henderson acquired 15,000 acres and developed the coastal community of Pass Christian. He died in 1857. In 1903, descendants of Henderson formed the Mexican Gulf Land Co. to promote Henderson’s Point as a planned community. It was advertised to wealthy New Orleans residents as the only remaining undeveloped tract between New Orleans and Mobile with easy access to rail transportation. There would be parks, big lots and a streetcar line to Gulfport and Biloxi. Located at the western tip of the Pass Christian peninsula, Henderson’s Point had homeowners who were known for fighting annexation to Pass Christian, and the area thus remained unincorporated.

U.S. Highway 90 west of Pass Christian now separates Henderson Point from the Pass Christian Iles, a 1,400-acre development that began in 1926. Seven miles of canals and lagoons were dug while the marsh areas were filled with the dredged material. The Isles are totally residential while Henderson’s Point has a small commercial district.

The Murphy family compound consisted of 14 acres that stretched in the shape of an isthmus.

The family bought almost 200 acres in California in 2007 to establish the Presqu’ile Winery. The first estate grapes were planted in 2008. A San Francisco architectural firm was hired to design the winery and tasting room, which are connected by a cave that was built into a hillside.

“That the Murphy family’s new Santa Maria property is shaped a lot like an isthmus smacks of serendipity,” Gabe Saglie wrote last year in the Santa Barbara News-Press. “‘We were looking for a great piece of pinot noir-growing land with a little bit of soul,’ says vinter Matt Murphy with a distinct Southern inflection. His family find off East Clark Avenue in 2007, which came after a year’s worth of hunting through pinot hot spots like Carneros and Lompoc’s Santa Rita Hills, fit the bill for clear viticultural reasons. The plot’s pervasive sand-like soil drains extremely well, and its proximity to the Pacific Ocean (the Murphy’s property is the second western-most vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley) creates ideal maritime growing conditions.”

Matt Murphy, the son of Madison and Suzanne Murphy of El Dorado, says of the Mississippi compound: “It was home to us. And it will never be the same.”

The family compound in Mississippi was given its name by Charles Murphy Jr., who loved to use his French. It’s pronounced “press-keel” with the emphasis on the second syllable.

“Presqu’ile is led by president Matt Murphy, and features his wife, Amanda; his brother, Jonathan, and his wife, Lindsey; his sister Anna; and their parents, who still reside in Arkansas,” Laurie Jervis wrote in the Santa Maria Times. “Matt Murphy and winemaker Dieter Cronje, a native of South Africa, lead the winemaking and are vocal believers in the potential of the Santa Maria Valley to lead the West Coast in terroir-driven wines.”

The new tasting room opened in June.

In addition to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and now the California Pacific Coast, the Murphy family long has had close ties to New Orleans.

“New Orleans is, in essence, our second home,” Madison Murphy said recently. “This place is special to us.”

So it’s natural that the Murphy family — and its winery — is playing a leading role in the Nov. 21 Little Rock event to fund an Arkansas exhibit at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

Matt Murphy moved to California to learn the wine business.

“During the wine grape harvest of 2006, Matt found himself working at Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara wine country,” Saglie wrote. “He’d already spent previous vintages in Napa, learning the business of growing grapes and selling wine. This was the year he’d get to know an increasingly renowned region called Santa Maria.

“The 2006 harvest had also brought Dieter Cronje to Bien Nacido. He’d already been trying his hand at winemaking for four years in his native South Africa and had developed a zeal for pinot noir. ‘I love to make it because it’s tough to make,’ he says with a Southern accent of a totally different kind. To stretch his wings, ‘it was either Burgundy or the United States for me, and since I knew my lack of French would make Burgundy tough, I came to the United States,’ he says with a laugh. The weather helped set his sights on Central California instead of Oregon.

“When Matt and Dieter met at the height of the grape-picking season, the unlikely duo quickly realized they shared a passion. And not just for pinot noir. The two will tell you they are fiercely focused on making wines that are balanced, not just big.”

The land purchased by the Murphy family in 2007 previously was being used to grow gladiolas.

Saglie wrote: “The promise for growing great grapes was palpable. And the fact it looked a heck of a lot like an isthmus was good fortune at least. They named their new property, for purely sentimental reasons, Presqu’ile.”

Matt and Amanda built a home on the property.

“Presqu’ile’s new, state-of-the-art winery and hospitality building — connected by a unique cave system — and the nearby residences could easily grace the pages of Architectural Digest,” Wendy Thies Sell wrote in the Santa Maria Sun. “The award-winning, San Francisco-based architectural firm Taylor Lombardo Architects designed the project. The design aesthetic is contemporary, sleek and elegant, incorporating stone, wood, concrete, glass and metal. Interesting modern art adorns the walls. They paid attention to every detail — just as Presqu’ile does in winemaking. Many of the building materials are sustainable and sourced from the West Coast. The sandstone used for the exterior and interior of the winery complex were harvested from a quarry in Lompoc. A local artisan labored for seven months hand-cutting and laying each stone.”

The newspaper describe Cronje as “a wine rock star — literally. Cronje not only handcrafts vibrant, complex wines, but he actually has a rock band, The Tepusquet Tornadoes, made up of wine industry friends.”

“We really do want it to be an easy rapport and a place where people can interact,” Madison Murphy said of the winery. “As they say on the Gulf Coast, ‘pass a good time.”’

From the pine woods and the oil patch of south Arkansas and north Louisiana to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to New Orleans and now to the Pacific Coast, the Murphy family of El Dorado has made its mark.

It all comes together on the evening of Nov. 21 at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock.

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Rex’s Rankings: One week until the playoffs

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Greenwood knows how to win, doesn’t it?

A week earlier, with the score tied, the Bulldogs had driven down the field late, and junior Kevin Jones — the son of head coach Rick Jones — had kicked a 23-yard field goal on the final play to give his team a 45-42 victory over Fort Smith Southside.

On Friday night, the conclusion was even more dramatic with the Bulldogs trailing a good Conway team on the road by a score of 21-20.

Conway had led 21-14 after three quarters. Kevin Jones kicked field goals of 41 and 35 yards to pull Greenwood within a point. Then, the Bulldogs drove 73 yards in 17 plays as the clock ticked down, converting twice on fourth down.

With 2.3 seconds remaining, Jones’ 24-yard field goal sailed through.

Greenwood 23, Conway 21.

The Greenwood winning streak is 47 games, the third longest in Arkansas high school history.

Yes, this is a team that always thinks it’s going to win. The state of Arkansas has rarely seen a high school program quite like it.

Fayetteville, meanwhile, was upset 34-31 by Springdale Har-Ber in overtime. The Purple Dogs, who have won the past two Class 7A state championships, lost for the first time this season.

So Fayetteville falls out of the No. 1 overall spot that it had held since Week 2.

Greenwood moves to No. 1.

I know that Greenwood is a Class 6A team.

I know that Greenwood was in Class 5A just two years ago.

But based on its performance so far, how can you argue with Greenwood being No. 1?

There are some huge games on tap in this final week of the regular season.

There’s Fayetteville-Bentonville in Class 7A.

There’s Arkadelphia-Malvern in Class 4A

And, as has become the trend in recent years, half the games will be played on a Thursday. I don’t like this trend. High school football is meant to be played on Friday nights. What can I say? I’m a traditionalist.

Here are the rankings after nine weeks of the regular season:

Overall

1. Greenwood

2. Cabot

3. Bentonville

4. Pulaski Academy

5. Fayetteville

6. North Little Rock

7. Conway

8. Arkadelphia

9. Camden Fairview

10. Fort Smith Southside

Class 7A

1. Cabot

2. Bentonville

3. Fayetteville

4. North Little Rock

5. Conway

Class 6A

1. Greenwood

2. El Dorado

3. Pine Bluff

4. Lake Hamilton

5. Russellville

Class 5A

1. Pulaski Academy

2. Camden Fairview

3. Batesville

4. Morrilton

5. Hope

Class 4A

1. Arkadelphia

2. Booneville

3. Pine Bluff Dollarway

4. Valley View

5. Malvern

Class 3A

1. Charleston

2. Harding Academy

3. Little Rock Episcopal

4. Glen Rose

5. Barton

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. East Poinsett County

3. Dierks

4. Gurdon

5. Carlisle

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