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College football: Week 11 (Battle of the Ravine week)

OK, college football fans, you have no excuse.

Arkansas is on the road at South Carolina.

Arkansas State plays on a Thursday night.

UCA has an open date.

UAPB is on the road at Grambling.

If you’ve never seen a Battle of the Ravine, this is your chance. The 6-3 Tigers of Ouachita Baptist University and the 9-0 Reddies of Henderson State University kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday at Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia.

You should be there if you like football, tradition and history.

There’s nothing else quite like it in college football. This game is to NCAA Division II what Alabama-Auburn is to Division I — a game that divides families; a game whose outcome is discussed 365 days a year.

Take last year’s contest as an example. After all the decades of play between the two Arkadelphia schools, the series was tied at 39-39-6. The ending of the 2011 Battle of the Ravine will be debated in coffee shops and at dinner tables in Clark County for decades.

Did Ouachita really score on that final play? The officials said no touchdown, and Henderson held on, 41-36, as tailback Chris Rycraw came up inches short.

Henderson had built a 41-17 lead midway through the third quarter, but Ouachita stormed back to score 19 unanswered points. The Tigers found themselves a yard away from the winning touchdown with less than a second remaining — a yard away from the most memorable comeback in school history.

So close yet so far.

Meanwhile, it was one of the most meaningful wins in Henderson history.

That’s the kind of game this is.

It’s the only college football game in America in which the visiting team walks to a road game. That’s right. The visitors don’t fly. They don’t take a bus. They dress at home and then wait for the state troopers to stop traffic on U.S. Highway 67 so they can cross.

This year it’s Ouachita’s turn to walk across the highway.

Ouachita is 6-3. The defending Great American Conference champions won their first six games before the many injuries caught up with them. They’ve since lost three straight and will come into Saturday afternoon’s contest as a heavy underdog.

Henderson, on the other hand, is 9-0 and ranked No. 8 nationally. Henderson is going for the first undefeated, untied season in school history. Henderson was 7-0-1 in 1927 and 8-0-1 in 1928, but there has never been an undefeated, untied season at the School With A Heart.

In 1975, probably the most talented Henderson team ever (the Reddies had lost to Texas A&I the previous season in the NAIA national championship game) came into the Battle of the Ravine with a 9-0 record. Henderson was ranked No. 2 nationally.

Ouachita was 8-1 and ranked No. 4. Trailing 20-14 with time running out, Ouachita converted a fourth-and-25 play by an inch. Two plays later, the Tigers scored, winning by a point, 21-20. To this day, it remains the greatest college football game I’ve ever witnessed.

The two Arkadelphia schools first played in 1895 with Ouachita winning by a score of 8-0. For years, they played on Thanksgiving Day. The series was ended following the 1951 game due to excessive vandalism and wasn’t renewed until 1963.

Last weekend generally was a good one for Arkansas schools.

UCA secured a playoff berth and at least a share of the Southland Conference title with a 35-14 victory over Northwestern State of Louisiana.

UAPB clinched the Western Division of the SWAC and a spot in the conference championship game at Legion Field in Birmingham with a 49-3 win over Texas Southern.

Arkansas won its homecoming game, 19-15, over Tulsa.

Arkansas State beat North Texas, 37-19, in Denton and is now in a tie for first place in the Sun Belt Conference.

We were 8-0 on the picks last week, making the record 65-15 for the season.

On to the picks for Week 11:

South Carolina 41, Arkansas 20 — Arkansas won against Tulsa to move to 4-5 on the season, but it wasn’t pretty. Looking on the bright side, Cobi Hamilton caught 11 passes for 177 yards to win the Crip Hall Award for best homecoming game by a senior. He will need another big day in Columbia on Saturday if Arkansas is to hang close. So will Dennis Johnson, who had 109 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Tulsa. I’m not expecting great things from the Hogs on Saturday, but you never know. Tyler Wilson suddenly could return to form. Paul Petrino suddenly could call some good plays. Paul Hanyes’ defense could show up. It’s too pretty a day outside not to think positive thoughts. But, as you see above, I’ll pick with my head, not my heart.

Arkansas State 31, Louisiana-Monroe 28 — It’s a huge game tonight for the Red Wolves as the national ESPNU audience looks on. Gus Malzahn’s first team at Arkansas State now finds itself in a tie for first place in the Sun Belt Conference thanks to Louisiana-Lafayette’s upset victory over Louisiana-Monroe last Saturday. In ASU’s win at North Texas, the Red Wolves had 476 yards of offense as their record improved to 6-3 overall and 4-1 in conference play. Louisiana-Monroe has identical records. Red Wolf quarterback Ryan Aplin was 25 of 32 passing in the North Texas game for 324 yards and two touchdowns.

UAPB 29, Grambling 9 — The Golden Lions are on a roll. Ben Anderson threw four touchdown passes and the UAPB defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the Golden Lions’ win over Texas Southern. It’s UAPB’s first Western Division title since 2006. At 7-2, the Golden Lions already have their most victories in the Monte Coleman era. The trip to north Louisiana on Saturday should make them 8-2. Grambling is bad this year. Its only victory was over a tiny program known as Virginia University of Lynchburg. The eight losses have come by scores of 22-21 to Alcorn State, 56-0 to TCU, 19-18 to Alabama State, 38-17 to Alabama A&M, 31-14 to Prairie View A&M, 45-21 to Mississippi Valley State, 23-20 to Texas Southern and 53-17 to Jackson State.

Henderson 51, Ouachita 30 — This is a Henderson team that has had two weeks to prepare for the Battle of the Ravine thanks to a late-season open date after running off nine consecutive victories. Last Saturday was Senior Day for Ouachita. Here’s how bad the injury situation is: Of the 12 seniors honored, only six were dressed out. The other half are out for the season. In losing its third consecutive game — a 44-28 defeat at the hands of Southern Arkansas — the Tigers gave up 336 yards through the air. That seems to indicate that Henderson’s sophomore sensation, Kevin Rodgers, will have a big day passing for the Reddies. Ouachita should score some points under the direction of quarterback Benson Jordan, who was 34 of 63 passing against Southern Arkansas for 372 yards.

Harding 40, Southwestern Oklahoma 19 — Harding is looking to finish the regular season 9-1 (with the only loss having come to Henderson) and earn a home playoff berth. The Bisons improved to 8-1 overall and 6-1 in conference play with a 31-9 win last Saturday at Southeastern Oklahoma. Southwestern Oklahoma comes to Searcy with records of 3-6 overall and 2-5 in the Great American Conference.

Southern Arkansas 49, Arkansas Tech 32 — It’s a shame that Southern Arkansas is probably going to finish the season 8-2 without earning a playoff berth. The Muleriders deserve to be in the playoffs. Southern Arkansas lost to Harding on a last-second field goal and played Henderson more closely than anyone else. Mulerider quarterback Tyler Sykora from Jessieville has had a wonderful season. He was 18 of 31 passing last Saturday in the win over Ouachita. Tech is trying to avoid its third consecutive losing season. The Wonder Boys are 5-5 overall and 3-4 in the GAC.

Northwestern Oklahoma 35, UAM 34 — The 1-9 Boll Weevils have a chance to end a nine-game losing streak against a Northwestern Oklahoma team that comes to Monticello with a 2-7 record. UAM lost 38-21 last Saturday at Southwestern Oklahoma.

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