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.