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College football: The Battle of the Ravine

It’s time for one of the South’s best college football rivalries.

No, silly, not the Battle for the Golden Boot.

That series took a one-two punch to the solar plexus when the wise men on The Hill decided to move the game out of Little Rock and when the Southeastern Conference decided it no longer would be played the week of Thanksgiving.

Now, it’s just another late-season game.

We’re talking about the Battle of the Ravine, one of the nation’s oldest rivalries and the only one in which the visiting team walks to a road game.

Rarely has there been a buildup to compare to that surrounding this Saturday afternoon’s game at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia.

Ouachita is 9-0 and has already assured itself a share of its second Great American Conference championship in four years.

Henderson is 9-1, having lost in the final minute at home to Harding after going undefeated in the regular seasons of 2012 and 2013.

The Arkadelphia teams feature two of the best quarterbacks in NCAA Division II, both of whom could start for a lot of Division I schools.

Henderson has senior Kevin Rodgers, the state’s all-time leader in passing yardage who has started for the Reddies since the middle of his freshman season.

Ouachita has Kiehl Frazier, who was the USA Today National Offensive Player of the Year coming out of high school at Shiloh Christian in Springdale and signed with Auburn University. Frazier was starting as a quarterback in the Southeastern Conference by his sophomore season. He lost the job, wanted to play quarterback his senior year, came home to Arkansas and enrolled in the small school where his brother is an offensive lineman.

The rest, as they say, is history. He has helped give Ouachita a dream season, leading the Tigers to the first 9-0 start in school history.

Ouachita is ranked No. 9 nationally in the American Football Coaches Association Division II poll.

Henderson is ranked No. 14.

Henderson and Ouachita have the two top college programs in the state during the past five seasons based on winning percentages. It only adds to the intrigue that they’re right across the street from each other.

This reminds me of the final game of 1975, when the roles were reversed, though the stadium was the same.

Henderson was undefeated coming into that Battle of the Ravine 39 years ago and had already ensured itself a share of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship.

Ouachita had won loss, having slipped up three weeks earlier against Southern Arkansas in Magnolia.

In what still ranks in my mind as the greatest college football game I’ve ever attended, Ouachita came from behind late to win 21-20 and earn a share of the AIC title.

Henderson will be trying to make Ouachita share the title this Saturday.

There’s one aspect in which the roles aren’t reversed. Henderson was favored in 1975, and Henderson is favored again this year. When I last checked the GAC message board on the main Division II website, 100 percent of those who had picked the game had gone with the Reddies.

Henderson has won four consecutive games in the series, which dates back to 1895 and was suspended from 1951-63 due to excessive vandalism. Last year’s battle was a classic with Henderson winning 60-52 in three overtimes. Ouachita led in the second overtime and had Henderson down to fourth down twice. But Rodgers converted passes each time to stave off defeat, the first one for a first down and the second one for the touchdown that sent the game to a third overtime. It makes me tired just thinking of that game.

We were 7-0 on the picks last week, making the record for the season 74-8.

Here are the picks for Week 12 of the college football season:

Henderson 38, Ouachita 35 — Based strictly on talent, Henderson should be a two-touchdown favorite. But rivalry games like this one are tough to call. In a magical season, the one weak spot for Ouachita has been the Tiger secondary. Southern Arkansas quarterback Si Blackshire torched the Tigers for 415 yards passing two weeks ago even though Ouachita won 38-28. Rodgers should throw for even more yards on Saturday. Based on that and the fact that the Reddies are playing on their side of the ravine, we’ll give the slight edge to Henderson.

LSU 19, Arkansas 14 — Is this the game when the Razorbacks finally get over the hump against an SEC opponent? It’s hard to figure out how Arkansas was established as a slight favorite when the Hogs are 4-5 overall and 0-5 in the SEC. LSU is 7-3 and 3-3. The Tigers began the season with wins against Wisconsin, Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe before falling to Mississippi State, 34-29. A victory over New Mexico State was followed by a decisive loss at Auburn and an overtime victory over Florida. LSU has played well in its past three games, beating Kentucky by a score of 41-3, upsetting Ole Miss by a score of 10-7 and then falling in overtime to Alabama by a score of 13-10. Remember that the Tigers have only lost two consecutive games once in Les Miles’ 10 seasons as head coach.

Arkansas State 37, Appalachian State 31 — Arkansas State played its best game of the season last Saturday in Jonesboro. The Red Wolves didn’t commit a turnover and scored on six of eight possessions en route to a 45-10 victory. It was the fourth consecutive game for the ASU offense to top 40 points, the first time in school history that has happened. The Red Wolves are now 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the Sun Belt Conference. They’re back in Jonesboro on Saturday afternoon for a 2 p.m. game against an Appalachian State team that’s 4-5 overall and 3-2 in the Sun Belt. Applachian State’s victories have come over Campbell, Troy, Georgia State and Louisiana-Monroe. The losses have been to Michigan, Southern Mississippi, Georgia Southern, South Alabama and Liberty. The visitors have won three consecutive games following a 1-5 start.

Alcorn State 34, UAPB 15 — The Golden Lions got blown out on homecoming last Saturday by a score of 51-23 against Prairie View A&M. UAPB is 3-6 overall and 2-5 in the SWAC and must visit an Alcorn State team that has already wrapped up the SWAC East Division title with records of 6-1 in conference and 8-2 overall. Alcorn’s only defeats have come against Southern Mississippi and Grambling. Alcorn has won its past three games by scores of 40-25 against Texas Southern, 77-48 against Prairie View and 41-14 against Alabama A&M.

Harding 30, Arkansas Tech 10 — Harding is 8-1 with only an overtime loss to Ouachita. Harding fans are in a tough situation this week. They need Henderson to win in order for their Bisons to earn a share of the GAC title. But they need Ouachita to win for Harding to have a chance at a playoff berth. A very, very good Harding team may stay at home during the postseason. Arkansas Tech is 3-6 with an excellent defense and an awful offense. Tech fell last Saturday by a score of 22-5 at Southeastern Oklahoma. Harding should win with ease this week.

Southern Arkansas 36, UAM 17 — It has been a frustrating season for both of these south Arkansas teams. Southern Arkansas has a fine quarterback in Blackshire but has managed only a 4-5 record. UAM is 2-7 and trailed Ouachita last Saturday by a score of 44-0 at the half.  Blackshire should be too much for the Boll Weevils on Saturday.

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