Ouachita Baptist's 35-10 victory over Southern Arkansas gave the Tigers a 10-0 record, another outright GAC title, and assured them of a spot in the NCAA Division II football playoffs.
But OBU Coach Todd Knight's look of contentment didn't last when the subject turned to Saturday's meeting with arch-rival Henderson State and the 92nd renewal of The Battle of the Ravine.
WHO Ouachita Baptist (10-0) vs. Henderson State (5-5)
SERIES 92nd meeting: Henderson State leads 43-42-6
LAST SEASON OBU won 49-42 at Cliff Harris Stadium
WHERE Carpenter-Haygood Stadium, Arkadelphia
WHEN Saturday, 1 p.m.
COACHES Todd Knight (110-94 at OBU, 9-8 vs. Henderson State); Scott Maxfield (99-53 at Henderson State; 7-5 vs. OBU)
NOTEWORTY Knight has been at OBU for 20 seasons but has only faced Henderson 17 times because the teams rotated off each other’s schedules in 2004 and 2005 when they were members of the Gulf South Conference. Maxfield’s first season at Henderson was 2005, but he didn’t coach against OBU until 2006 because of the quirk in scheduling.
TICKETS $7 for adults, $5 for children; Henderson State students, faculty and staff enter free with ID; OBU students admitted free with ID
NCAA Division II football ends its regular season on Saturday, and three Arkansas teams — Ouachita Baptist (10-0), Southern Arkansas (8-2) and Harding (8-2) — hold out hope to be among the field of 28 teams when the playoff bracket is announced on Sunday afternoon.
The top 7 teams in each of Division II’s 4 Super Regions normally make the field, which puts No. 2 OBU and No. 7 SAU in prime position.
Harding moved from No. 9 to No. 8 after it defeated Southeastern Oklahoma 24-10 last Saturday and Pittsburg State lost to Washburn.
Pittsburg State (7-3) fell to No. 10, but Fort Hays State (8-2) moved from No. 7 to No. 5 with a 17-16 victory over Northwest Missouri State (8-2) in the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
Northwest Missouri, which fell to No. 6, plays its regular-season finale at Central Missouri (5-5). Fort Hays plays host to 0-10 Northeastern (Okla.) State on Saturday.
SAU, which lost 35-10 to OBU, remained ahead of Harding because of its 28-23 victory at Harding in the second week of the season, said Donnie Wagner, the NCAA’s associate director of championships in Division II.
SAU plays Saturday at UAM (5-5) and Harding hosts Arkansas Tech (3-7).
“A lot of things can still happen,” Wagner said.
Conference championships and playoff trips are fine, but the Reddies of Henderson State are a different animal.
"It's the biggest game of the year," Knight said.
Knight gets no argument from OBU Athletic Director David Sharp, the man who introduced Knight as OBU's new head coach 20 years ago.
"It's a great rivalry, a great, great rivalry," said Sharp, who has been involved in the game as either a player, assistant coach or administrator since 1975. "It resonates in my heart."
Sharp gets no argument from his counterpart, Henderson State Athletic Director Shawn Jones, who will be attending his fifth HSU-OBU matchup.
Jones, a relative newbie to the rivalry, earned his battle stripes when Coach Scott Maxfield invited him to take part in the famed pregame walk, when U.S. 67 is blocked off and the visiting team strides some 615 yards from its campus to the other.
This year it's OBU that walks across the road (ETA is 11:15 a.m.), with Carpenter-Haygood Stadium as its destination.
"There is something about it that makes the hair on the back of your head stand up," Jones said of the walk and the game. "It does mean everything."
Jones, of course, gets no argument from Henderson Coach Scott Maxfield, whose Reddies have butted heads with Knight's Tigers 12 times since his arrival in Arkadelphia in 2005.
Maxfield (99-53 in 14 seasons) holds a 7-5 edge over Knight and the Tigers, but the Reddies (5-5) have lost two in a row in the series and enter Saturday's game needing a victory to avoid their first losing season since 2009.
Maxfield can earn his 100th victory as Henderson's coach on Saturday, just like Knight won his 100th game at Ouachita in last season's 49-42 victory.
"I just want to win," Maxfield said, dismissing the importance of having a ninth consecutive winning season and his personal achievement. "I don't care if I'm playing the guys across the street or the University of Michigan, I want to win."
Maxfield was able to laugh when it was pointed out that beating Michigan might not be something Henderson State and its 36 scholarships are destined to do.
"That might be a bit of a mismatch," Maxfield said, turning from Michigan to Ouachita. "It might be like that Saturday. They are the Michigan of the GAC.
"This is the best team I've seen them have."
Being the best team does not guarantee one side winning in a rivalry that is as even as it can get -- 43-42-6 in Henderson's favor -- without being tied.
The athletic directors and coaches agree that this is one of those games where season records have to be dismissed.
The adrenaline, spiked by crowds that can range up to 15,000, more than the population of Arkadelphia, can even things out even when there is an apparent mismatch in talent.
"It does mean everything," Jones said. "They've had an unbelievable season. 10-0. We're 5-5, but boy, a win in this game, unbelievable.
"I'm just telling you, the kids find another level. Nothing is surprising. Who knows what's going to happen?"
Sharp said the fact that OBU has already clinched its 11th consecutive winning season and that Henderson is shooting for its ninth consecutive winning season adds to the intensity of the rivalry.
"You've got to have two good teams to have a good rivalry." Sharp said. "The fact that we're champions of the conference means nothing when it comes to playing Henderson State University. When you step out on the field, it's game on."
Knight, who weathered nine consecutive non-winning seasons after arriving in Arkadelphia, said he can hardly remember the games early in his tenure.
"It's The Battle of the Ravine, it's always the same," Knight said. "None of that other stuff matters. It's just a privilege to be part of it."
Take it from OBU senior wide receiver Drew Harris, who etched his name into Battle of the Ravine lore by scoring all 7 of his team's touchdowns in last season's 49-42 victory.
"Well, it's the biggest game because it's across the street," he said. "We know the people over there, and they know us. It's a dogfight, and it's going to be a good one."
Sports on 11/09/2018
Print Headline: Toss out records, titles for Battle of the Ravine