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Tough game predicted, but battle was legendaryPublished November 21, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
ARKADELPHIA — Rex Nelson, play-by-play announcer for the Ouachita Baptist University Tigers, predicted it, as did color commentator Jeff Root.
“This game could be one we remember and talk about for a long time,” Root said more than an hour before the kickoff of the 2013 Battle of the Ravine, the season-ending game between across-the-street rivals OBU and Henderson State University.
The game has become so big, it even has a sponsor, like a major bowl game does. The game is officially the Southern Bancorp Battle of the Ravine.
Nelson said the game might turn the day into a memorable one, and he hoped it went Ouachita’s way.
“I hope the game will mess up Henderson’s undefeated season and their national ranking with a victory for the Tigers,” he said. “We are 7-2, but we really were just a couple of plays away from being undefeated ourselves.”
Over on the visitors’ side of A.U. Williams Field, the fans of the undefeated HSU Reddies were also expecting a tough battle this year.
“We should win. We have already won the conference championship, and a win will give us a better chance to host a playoff game,” said Elaine Kneebone, general counsel for Henderson State University. “But you never know, especially against Ouachita. That is when it seems that the records never matter.”
While the outcome didn’t meet Nelson’s hopes, it was a game for the ages as the Reddies won 60-52, but it took not only the 60 regulation minutes of the game but three overtime periods before Reddie Gary Vines intercepted a pass from Tiger quarterback Benson Jordan as OBU tried to match Henderson’s eighth touchdown of the day.
The overflow crowd of 9,648 — the official capacity is only 5,600 — saw 112 points and 1,065 yards of offense between the two teams.
“It seems that as the game went on, the crowd grew. I could see that people were coming to the stadium and watching the game from the hillside next to the road,” said Root, who is also dean of the School of the Humanities at OBU. “I think everybody wanted to be part of the memorable game.”
Tradition is a major part of every OBU-HSU game. This is the 87th time the two teams have played each other. In the past, the rivalry has been so heated that the games were called off for a few years. But today, the game is not only for the two schools but is one of the biggest events in Arkadelphia. The game was even mentioned on College Game Day, ESPN’s nationally televised pregame show.
“We have been trying for years to get them to come here and do the game on the field between the two stadiums,” Root said, “but they are all about the [Bowl Championship Series] schools.”
More national attention was garnered after a ceremony held at halftime. OBU and the Little Rock Touchdown Club honored Cliff Harris, a legendary OBU Tiger player and pro football great, with the unveiling of the trophy for the Club’s Cliff Harris Award, to be presented to the premier small-college defensive player at the end of each season.
Players will be chosen from Division II, III and NAIA colleges and universities. Finalists from all three divisions and an overall winner will be chosen by head coaches and a prestigious selection committee of college and pro football greats. The winner will be announced in December and honored at the Little Rock Touchdown Club’s annual awards banquet in February.
Harris, an All-AIC and All-American safety for the Tigers, was part of the 1966 Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference Football Championship team in his freshman year. He went on to be a five-time Super Bowl competitor with the Dallas Cowboys. He said he is excited to be associated with the award.
“As a small-college player myself, I always understood that recognition and respect for outstanding play was more difficult to attain compared to players from larger schools,” Harris told the fans during a ceremony on the field. “Because of this, I relied on perseverance and mental toughness to help me play my best, even when it wasn’t recognized. This enabled me to succeed at every level, including the NFL and five Super Bowls.”
Before the game, thousands of fans from both teams mingled together at the Henderson soccer fields across the road from Williams Stadium. The crowd played games, rode carnival rides, held reunions and enjoyed the competitive meals prepared by the food-service organizations at both schools.
The festival quality of the event actually started Monday evening with activities at each school that ran every night on the two campuses, then joined for the event starting Saturday morning on the Henderson fields.
At game time approached, the fans of each school took their places at OBU’s football field, and the battle was on. Although the Reddie faithful rushed the field after the interception ended the game, and the HSU players hoisted coach Scott Maxfield onto their shoulders in celebration, Root said the mood was friendly between the two teams and their fans.
“It was great the way things felt very friendly,” he said. “It felt good to be a part of such a great game, even if [OBU fans] were disappointed in how it ended. I could see the players talking to each other. They know each other and certainly respect each other after a game like this.”
The players were not the only ones tired from being a part of the long-running and closely fought Battle of the Ravine.
“It was a great game and a great atmosphere,” said Shaun Pop, assistant director of bands at Henderson State and co-director of the Showband of Arkansas. “After all the excitement and the overtimes, we were exhausted. Then the theater department had a performance of Scrooge! The Musical! that night, and some of our band members had to hurry and get to that performance.”
Another tradition is that no matter the outcome of the game, life goes on.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or email@example.com.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.