There is a small town in southern Arkansas, where two rivers meet, with a highly traveled scenic highway, and two institutions of higher learning are 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 sporting event in intercollegiate athletics.
Two prestigious institutions, rich in history and tradition, will meet on the football field as Henderson State will face off against Ouachita Baptist in the 87th meeting of “The Battle of the Ravine” set for November 16, 2013 at 2 p.m. at A.U. Williams located on the Ouachita Baptist University campus.
This unique rivalry is the oldest NCAA Division II rivalry dating back to 1895.
Henderson State will make the short walk across Highway 7. The Reddies will begin their journey from the Formby Athletic Center at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday and walk through the crowds leading to A.U. Williams Field.
The distance to A.U. Williams Field from Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium are so close, that a former Reddie golfer teed off with a driver from Carpenter-Haygood and then used a 4-iron to reach A.U. Williams Field.
With the Arkansas Razorbacks idle this week, an overflow crowd of fans and media are expected to be in attendance at this year’s event.
With most of the attention in the State of Arkansas focusing on the happenings in Fayetteville, these two institutions receive very little television or radio exposure throughout the year. In fact, the reserved seat assigned for the local newspaper in each school’s press box has remained vacant for several years.
However the spotlight will shine on the town of 11,000 for this one day. Television cameras, live pregrame radio remotes, numerous stations broadcasting the game, and statewide newspaper coverage will report on this year’s event.
There are not many rivalries as old or rich in tradition as the Henderson State vs. Ouachita Baptist “Battle of the Ravine.” It is the oldest rivalry among current NCAA Division II institutions, and after 86 games played between these two fine institutions, Henderson State holds a 41-39-6. The Reddies have won the last three games in the series, including a 42-7 victory last year in front of a record crowd of 12,035.
In 1949, the Tigers rallied from a 14-0 deficit to beat the Reddies 17-14. The Reddies were in complete control for the first 53 minutes and on their way to a share of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship. However, Ike Sharp became an unlikely hero successfully kicking three onside kicks in the last seven minutes. After a touchdown made the score 14-7 and a successful on-side kick, Babe Henry silenced the Reddie crowd with a sweep to tie the score. Sharp was called on again to work his magic and the Tigers recovered the kick. With OBU on the Reddie 4, the Tigers kicked the game-winner. Sharp sealed the deal with another onside kick recovered by the Tigers, and OBU ran out the clock.
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. Involvement in these pranks include members of both institutions current faculty, vice presidents, and even government officials.
Even former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was involved in lighting Henderson State’s homecoming bonfire a day earlier than scheduled.
Other pranks include HSU students kidnapping the OBU homecoming queen and holding her hostage for 48-hours, 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 State’s main campus and Henderson State students painting the tiger statue.
One year a male Henderson State student dressed in drag and convinced the OBU librarian on duty that they were to take the library’s tiger statue away for cleaning.
Ouachita Baptist students would sabotage the Henderson State fountain which is a focal point of the Henderson State campus and sits along Highway 7. 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 history of this storied event began in 1895 when then Ouachita College beat Arkadelphia Methodist College, 8-0 on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28.
It took 12 years for the second meeting between the two institutions to take place. In the first sanctioned game of the series, in 1907 the Reddies beat the Tigers and went on to claim the Arkansas State Championship. This began a streak of seven straight Reddie wins.
The game was traditionally played on Thanksgiving, and both teams made it their homecoming game.
The series discontinued in 1951 after Henderson State won 54-0 and the pranks that went along with the series overshadowed the game and became more serious. The series did not resume until 1963 with the Reddies winning 28-13.
The series continued uninterrupted until 1993 because of Henderson State’s move to the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference. After a three-year hiatus, the series began again in 1996 as OBU moved to the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference.
Ouachita Baptist joined the GSC in 2000, however an eight-year GSC schedule had already been put into place and the two schools did not meet every year. GSC schools do not play everyone in the league due to the number of teams. Henderson State and OBU did not play in 2004 or 2005 because the two institutions rotated off each other’s conference schedules.
Henderson State recorded its largest win over Ouachita Baptist in 1932, beating the Tigers 62-0, while OBU’s largest margin of victory was a 66-0 win over the Reddies in 1919.
Of the 86 meetings between the two institutions, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less 38 times, with OBU having the advantage in close games 19-13-6.
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.
Courtesy of Troy Mitchell, Henderson State University