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Rex Nelson on the Battle of the Ravine (Part 3)

No one can tell the story of the battle of the ravine better than Rex Nelson. This is an article he wrote a year ago:

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.

Rex Nelson on the Battle of the Ravine (Part 2)

Battle of the Ravine 2010

Uploaded by on Nov 2, 2010

This year, several events led up to the annual Battle of the Ravine, including a pep rally and Henderson Halloween in downtown Arkadelphia, a “bash” at the Barkman House, and the traditional tailgating. And, of course, the Reddies won the “Battle” with a 35-26 win over OBU!


Rex Nelson talks about last year’s battle of the ravine.

Crossing the ravine

I wrote last week about the 84th Battle of the Ravine in Arkadelphia. The game itself wasn’t as close as some past games had been as Henderson defeated Ouachita by a final score of 35-26.

But the weather was perfect, and both teams had talent as a crowd of almost 10,000 people looked on.

Something struck me as I spent the day at Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium: From an economic and community development standpoint, Arkadelphia is finally getting its act together. A look at the election maps from Tuesday, unfortunately, shows that Clark County remains stuck in a one-party mentality that has stunted fresh thinking there for far too long. But that too will change at some point.

As noted in last week’s post, the football series between Ouachita and Henderson was halted from 1951 until 1963 due to excessive vandalism. Prior to that 1951 suspension, however, an energetic chapter of Arkadelphia Jaycees worked during the late 1940s to transform the Battle of the Ravine into a weeklong series of activities that people across the state and region would want to attend. Arkadelphia was perhaps the most progressive city in the southern half of the state back then.

As part of the economic and community development work I did during my 13 years in government, I constantly preached that communities must identify what makes them different and then build on those assets. Arkadelphia, for example, is different from other towns in the southern half of Arkansas because it’s the home of two four-year universities. That’s what sets it apart from Malvern, Camden, Magnolia, Monticello and all the rest.

And it already has this unique annual event — the one college football game in the country in which the visiting team actually walks to a road game since U.S. Highway 67 is all that separates the two stadiums.

After ending the spring Festival of Two Rivers a few years back, business and civic leaders in Arkadelphia struggled to come up with something new. As is so often the case in communities, the answer was right in front of them. The Battle of the Ravine is unique. They should build events around it, just as the Jaycees had done back in the 1940s, and then promote the festival statewide. I preached on that subject in appearances before the Arkadelphia Football Club and Leadership Clark County.

Fortunately, there’s a new generation of leaders now stepping forward in a city that has been stagnant from a population growth standpoint for decades. Those young leaders seized on the idea. Led by people such as Blake Bell of Edward Jones, they created a festival known as the Rally on the Ravine and came up with complementary events such as a golf tournament, a community pep rally and a road race.

Spurred by Bell and other graduates of Leadership Clark County, the group behind the Rally on the Ravine obtained sponsorship money from a variety of sources. Southern Bancorp was the title sponsor. The next two largest sponsors were the Ross Foundation and the Arnold Batson Turner & Turner law firm.

In the next tier of sponsors were Leadership Clark County, the Dawson Educational Cooperative, the Arkadelphia School District, the city of Arkadelphia, Summit Bank, Edward Jones, Vision Source, Treadway Electric, state Rep. Johnnie Roebuck, Print Mania, Minks Inc. Design and the two universities.

It was an unqualified success and no doubt will grow in future years. These young leaders should shoot for the stars. Occasionally, ESPN will take its “College GameDay” program to a small college. For years, Henderson sports information director Troy Mitchell has been working to get ESPN interested in the Battle of the Ravine. The cable network has yet to bite, missing an opportunity to show viewers across the country what small college football is really all about. Attracting ESPN to Arkadelphia could be one of the goals of the leadership group.

In a state that’s painted Razorback red this time each year, the football rivalry between Henderson and Ouachita has never received the attention it deserves. In fact, it sometimes get more attention outside the state than inside Arkansas.

A recent feature article in Touchdown Illustrated, a publication distributed during football games at colleges and universities across the country, began this way: “There is a small town in southern Arkansas where two rivers meet, with a highly traveled scenic highway and two institutions of higher learning within a stone’s throw of one another. This town is Arkadelphia, Ark., and one day each year it plays host to the most unique sports event in intercollegiate athletics.”

You read that correctly. A national publication called the Battle of the Ravine “the most unique sports event” in all of college sports.

Having started in 1895, it’s one of the oldest rivalries in the country. Harvard has been playing Yale since 1875 in what’s known simply as The Game. Amherst has been playing Williams since 1884 in what’s known as the Biggest Little Game in America. Army has been playing Navy since 1890. Alabama has been playing Auburn in the Iron Bowl since 1893.

But the Battle of the Ravine is older than rivalries such as Clemson vs. South Carolina, Ohio State vs. Michigan and Oklahoma vs. Texas. And you can’t get more evenly matched. Following Henderson’s victory last Satuday, the series is even at 39-39-6.

Ouachita athletic director David Sharp put it this way in the Touchdown Illustrated story: “There is not a more unique setting for a game. This is the only place where you can literally take a driver and a 3-wood and hit from one school’s stadium to the other.”

The story also reported on the pranks that are so much a part of this crosstown rivalry: “Along with the game are the shenanigans that lead up to that day. There are always pranks and practical jokes in which students from both schools participate. The pranks intensify during game week. Those involved in these pranks include members of both institutions’ current faculty, vice presidents and government officials. Even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was involved in lighting Henderson’s homecoming bonfire a day earlier than scheduled.

“Other pranks include HSU sorority and fraternity members painting marshmallows in the school’s red and gray and having a crop-duster drop them on OBU’s side of the street; diesel fuel used to burn OBU into the grass on Henderson’s main campus; and Henderson students painting the Tiger statue. Ouachita students would sabotage the Henderson fountain, which is a focal point of the Henderson campus. … Students have been known to put purple dye or fizzies in the fountain.

“During game week, numerous monuments and memorials on both campuses are heavily covered in plastic to prevent them from being painted, as well as each school’s football stadium lights remain on throughout the evening. … The game won’t draw 100,000 fans, but rather 10,000, and each and every one will come away knowing they have been part of one of the most storied events in all of college football.”

To borrow the cliche, you simply can’t buy national attention that good.

Enrollment is up at both Henderson and Ouachita this summer. There seems to be a renewed spirit in the town. The Battle of the Ravine is simply one piece in a very large community development puzzle, but the crop of young leaders must build on the successes of last week as they work to help an Arkansas city finally achieve its potential.