by Nate Olson
My friend Rex Nelson could be considered an expert in many things. He’s worked in and around Arkansas politics for years including eight years on former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s staff. He is one of the great journalists our state has seen and is currently a senior editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Rex, a lifelong Arkansan, is an authority on Arkansas history. I sat in on his lecture last fall chronicling Arkansas through the years, and it was fascinating.
However, there are two areas of expertise that I particularly respect Rex’s opinion – food and Ouachita Baptist football. When Rex and I shared an office wall, I heard several calls per week from friends asking for eating suggestions in Arkansas locales far and wide. His OBU football knowledge comes from 37 years as the play-by-play man with his longtime friend Dr. Jeff Root, the Dean of the OBU School of Humanities, by his side.
So, when Rex was particularly amazed by OBU’s 24-21 late-game win against cross-the-street rival Henderson State, I knew it wasn’t hyperbole.
“I haven’t used epic to describe many games, but this game was epic,” he told listeners of OBU’s vast radio network who hung on his every emphatic word.
Rex has invited me to attend the Battle of the Ravine, the name given to the rivalry, for a long time. Being a big-time college football fan, whose fandom has revolved around rivalries, I was intrigued.
When I discovered there were no youth sports contests or family events scheduled for last Saturday, I quickly made plans. My dad, who I’ve attended countless games with, was riding shotgun.
We arrived at Cliff Harris Stadium about three hours prior to kick-off. I wanted to be there in plenty of time to see one of the great traditions in college football. At 11:30 a.m. the visitors from Henderson State were scheduled to walk across the temporarily closed U.S. 67 to the stadium. What a sight that was as state troopers blocked the road while the Reddies walked in step like soldiers as they crossed the road and wound into the parking lot and in the gate. Parents and other fans yelled encouraging words and the players, sans helmets, acknowledged the fans but just slightly as most of them wore steely expressions indicating extreme focus.
The band, who were stars during the game, crossed over, as well as the cheer squad. Their arrival was more light and festive. Other fans crossed, too.
With that marked off the bucket list, we searched for sustenance. We agreed on a bratwurst with bleu cheese butter. Not an item my doctor has included on my low-cholesterol diet, but this was a special occasion of sorts.
We settled in our seats, which we had reserved when we go there with a seat cushion and coat. The woman in the ticket booth assured us if we sat on the OBU side our stuff wouldn’t be moved, indicating she might not be as sure of the security of those items if we sat with the less-honest Reddies.
I noticed immediately that the OBU crowd was a little more subdued. Henderson’s fans across the way looked like they were ready to burst. When the invocation was finished and the National Anthem ready to be performed, one boisterous HSU fan yelled, ‘Go Reddies’ to the chagrin of some of our section mates.
Henderson mirrored their fans’ intensity and jumped to a 14-0 lead thanks to an impressive opening drive and another TD scored after a turnover. The golf-clap crowd of OBU was even more subdued. My dad enjoys popcorn at halftime, so I suggested with about six minutes left, we venture to the concession stand to beat the throng. Unfortunately, we were too late and apparently were in the line manned by the green freshmen workers because our line was much, much slower. During that time, OBU scored to make it 14-7, and the crowd roared a little.
I am not sure what OBU Coach Todd Knight told his troops at the half, but they responded. Tigers’ quarterback Brayden Brazeal capped off a nine play, 55-yard drive with a six-yard TD run to tie the game with just over 10 minutes left in the third quarter, and the Tigers fans were revved up.
OBU took its first lead of the game when freshman kicker Gabe Goodman drilled a 36-yard field goal to make the score 17-14 with 11:40 to play in the game.
The Tigers had the ball late but fumbled the ball setting the stage for Reddies running back Querale Hall to score on a 10-yard run capping the 40-yard jaunt. The Reddies fans were going ballistic knowing OBU needed to score a touchdown in the final 1:44 to win the game.
Brazeal, from the tiny town of England, showed resolve, as the Tigers embarked on a 74-yard scoring drive. His long pass aided by a late hit penalty set up the go-ahead score. Brockton Brown plunged in from a yard out to give the Tigers the 24-21 advantage. In the radio booth, Rex was about to have a heart attack as OBU had trouble punching the ball in on the previous play and time was precious with no timeouts. He about fell out of the booth named for him when Brown scored.
After the ensuing kickoff Henderson State got the ball deep in its own territory and couldn’t do anything with it. Even though the public address announcer had started warning fans to stay off the field early in the fourth quarter, several students streamed on the field and good for them.
My observations and reflections. 1) The mystique surrounding the game is real. 2) The walk across the road is the coolest thing I’ve seen in years of watching college football. 3) Henderson State’s fans are rowdier. 4) Henderson State’s band is better and more in the game. 5) The crowd that is shoehorned in is a sight to see with purple and red mixed together. 6) That was one of the better college football games I’ve attended in person in a while. 7) I was glad I was neutral. I could enjoy it much more knowing I wouldn’t be crushed with the result. 8) If you’ve never been to the Battle of the Ravine, you need to go. It’s a sports fans must-see. 9) My dad and I will plan to attend next year at HSU. We can’t wait.
Images courtesy of Ouachita Baptist University Department of Communications, Hannah Davis, and Justin Trostle