The 84th Battle of the Ravine

The Battle of the Ravine.

For those who really understand this college football rivalry, there’s little more that needs to be said.

I realize that I have an inherent bias. I grew up with the Battle of the Ravine as an important part of my life. In my family, the day when Ouachita played Henderson was about as big as Christmas and far bigger than New Year’s Day. We could walk to either stadium from our house, though the Henderson stadium was a bit more of a hike.

The two Arkadelphia schools first played each other in football in 1895. The series was suspended from 1951 until 1963 due to excessive vandalism.

Consider these facts:

— It’s the only college football game in America in which the visiting team walks to a road game. That’s because only U.S. Highway 67 separates Ouachita’s A.U. Williams Field from Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium.

— They’ve played 83 times through the years, and the series is almost dead even. Ouachita has won 39 times. Henderson has won 38 times. There have been six ties.

— Of the 83 meetings between Henderson and Ouachita, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less 37 times with Ouachita holding a 19-12-6 advantage in those close games.

Ouachita won one of the greatest games in the history of the series two years ago at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium, 43-36. The Tigers came from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to end the season with five consecutive victories. Last year at A.U. Williams Field, Ouachita jumped out to a big lead early and held on to win, 35-28. As noted, those seven-point margins of the past two seasons are the norm rather than the exception.

And wouldn’t you know that Henderson and Ouachita come into Saturday’s game with the top two scoring offenses in the Gulf South Conference, which generally is recognized as the toughest conference in all of NCAA Division II. The game, which begins at 1 p.m. at Henderson’s stadium, has all the makings of another classic.

The weather forecast looks good. You really ought to consider going to Arkadelphia if, for nothing else, than to say you’ve experienced a Battle of the Ravine. There will be a giant tailgate party adjacent to the stadium beginning at 10 a.m. with free hot dogs. The 1 p.m. kickoff means the game will end about 4 p.m., giving those of you who live in the Little Rock area plenty of time to return home before the Hogs come on television at 6 p.m.

Here’s what Troy Mitchell, Henderson’s talented sports information director, wrote: “There’s the Battle for the Little Brown Jug (Michigan vs. Minnesota), the Egg Bowl (Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss) and the Iron Bowl (Alabama vs. Auburn). But the oldest rivalry in Division II football is the Coleman Dairy Battle of the Ravine. … It has been said so many times it is almost trite, but it still bears repeating one more time: For sheer excitement, for dramatic finishes and for almost unbearable tension, few things in sports can be compared to a Henderson State-Ouachita Baptist football game.”

When I lived in Washington, D.C., I missed the Battle of the Ravine from 1985-87. I flew back for the 1988 game and moved back to Arkansas just before the 1989 game. Other than those three years, I’ve been at every Battle of the Ravine since the series resumed in 1963 (I was 4 then). I’ve also had the pleasure of attending the Iron Bowl four times. Ask me the greatest rivalries in college football, and I’ll tell you it’s Ouachita vs. Henderson at the small college level and Alabama vs. Auburn at the major college level.

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

You want to hear about some of the classic games in the series?

How about 1914 when Ouachita beat both Arkansas and Ole Miss but could only manage a scoreless tie with Henderson?

How about 1926, at the new A.U. Williams Field, when Hardy Winburn broke loose for a 35-yard score in the rain to give Ouachita a 14-7 victory?

How about 1949, when Ouachita trailed with seven minutes left by a score of 14-0? The late Ike Sharp successfully executed three onside kicks for Ouachita in those final seven minutes and Otis Turner, known as the Magic Toe, kicked the field goal that gave the Tigers a 17-14 victory.

How about 1950 when more than 8,000 people turned out to watch the Reddies avenge the previous season’s loss with a 7-0 win over Ouachita? It would be 13 years before they would play again.

How about 1963 as the series resumed with a 28-13 Henderson win at Haygood Stadium, allowing the Reddies to claim a share of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship?

How about 1969 when the great Henderson quarterback Tommy Hart led the Reddies back from a 17-7 second-half deficit? The Reddies ended up winning 23-17 and captured the AIC title in the process.

How about 1972 when Ouachita used a 47-yard touchdown run by hometown freshman sensation Luther Guinn with 2:23 to play to pull within one point at 14-13? Legendary Ouachita Coach Buddy Benson decided to go for two, and it paid off as quarterback Mike Carroll hit Danny Jack Winston to give Ouachita a 15-14 victory.

How about 1975, which I will tell you is the greatest college football game I’ve ever seen at any level? Henderson was undefeated coming into the final game of the regular season. Ouachita was 8-1. Trailing 20-14 with time running out, Ouachita faced a fourth-and 25. Quarterback Bill Vining Jr., the son of the Ouachita head basketball coach and athletic director, completed a pass to Gary Reese for 25 yards. The chains came out, and Ouachita had the first down by an inch. Two plays later, Vining hit Ken Stuckey for the touchdown, and Russell Daniel kicked the extra point to give the Tigers a 21-20 win. Ouachita and Henderson tied for the AIC championship. Ouachita was one of four teams selected for the NAIA playoffs. Henderson went to the Bicentennial Bowl at War Memorial Stadium.

How about 1978 when Coach Benson decided to go for two late in the game, just as he had done in 1972 at Haygood Stadium? Ouachita trailed 7-6 with 1:21 remaining after a Neal Turner touchdown pass to Jimmy Cornwell. Turner threw a pass to William Miller on the two-point conversion attempt, but Ned Parette knocked the ball away. It was my first year to do Ouachita games on the radio. By the way, it was a pass interference that was never called (now my Ouachita bias is showing).

How about 1982 when Ouachita drove the length of the field for a late touchdown to win 19-18 and capture the AIC championship?

How about 1988 when the game was called off due to flooding (much of the field was under water) at halftime with the score tied at 3-3?

How about 2008 when Ouachita scored 27 fourth-quarter points to rally from a 29-16 deficit? In one of the greatest individual performances I’ve ever seen, Tiger receiver Julio Pruitt had 10 receptions for 250 yards and four touchdowns. One of his touchdown catches was shown on ESPN’s top plays of the day that evening.

The best three Battles of the Ravine I’ve seen are (in order from No. 1) the 1975, 1982 and 2008 games.

Sometimes, ESPN takes its “College GameDay” show to a smaller college.

One of these years, the network should do the show from Arkadelphia on the day of the Battle of the Ravine. People across the country need to know about this unique rivalry.

Hopefully, many of you will find your way to Carpenter-Haygood Stadium on Saturday. I promise that you will enjoy yourself.

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