Arkansas rivals separated by only a street

BY foxsports • November 6, 2009

About 20 minutes before kickoff this Saturday, the Henderson State Reddies will stop warming up and walk across a two-lane Arkansas highway to face Ouachita Baptist in the Battle of the Ravine. The Division II schools have been playing each other for more than a century in a neighborhood rivalry defined by spirited games, audacious pranks and even a kidnapping.

"We hear all over the country about rivalries," Ouachita Baptist athletic director David Sharp said. "UCLA-USC, Auburn-Alabama, Yale and Harvard, Florida-Florida State, Duke-North Carolina. We hear about that, all of those. There's none as unique as this one."

The teams play in a shallow valley just north of downtown Arkadelphia. Ouachita Baptist's field is east of the road and Henderson State's is on the opposite side, a bit farther back. The Henderson State folks are talking about seeing if the golf coach can be filmed hitting a ball from one field to the other. A driver and a 4-iron should do the trick.

"Saves on your travel budget," Henderson State coach Scott Maxfield quipped.

The teams first met in 1895 (Ouachita won 8-0) and this weekend's matchup is the 83rd. The series is deadlocked at 38-38-6.

Pranks are as much a part of this feud as blitzes and field goals. By midday Thursday, someone had slapped red paint on a cannon at the end of the Ouachita field. Henderson State's colors, by the way, are red and gray. School signs were covered in plastic in hopes of deterring vandalism.

Sharp knows the rivalry well. He is the son of Ike Sharp, who in 1949 kicked three successful onside kicks in the final minutes as Ouachita rallied from a 14-0 deficit to beat Henderson State 17-14.

One year, around that same time, Henderson State students kidnapped the Ouachita homecoming queen. She was kept unharmed in Hot Springs, 35 miles away, but Sharp went to an Arkadelphia hotel to look for her.

"A bunch of students, mostly football players, went down there. My dad included, with a pair of overalls on, with a shotgun in those overalls," Sharp said. "That's a classic moment."

Not long after the kidnapping, the series went on an 11-year hiatus.

"Evidentially they thought that was a little much," Henderson State athletic director Sam Goodwin said. "I don't know if that was the only thing that did it, but it just was probably a variety of things."

The series resumed in 1963 and the schools kept right on antagonizing each other. During the 1970s, Henderson State fraternity and sorority members painted marshmallows red and gray and had a crop duster dump them on the Ouachita campus.

Nowadays, students from one school can attend athletic events at the other for free, including those times when the football teams play home games on the same day.

"We'll be playing and you'll hear their cannon go off," Henderson State offensive lineman Marc Keppner said.

The quirky back-and-forth does a lot for school spirit. K.C. Knobloch, a Ouachita junior, helped guard his school's tiger statue this week on behalf of a fraternity. There was a tent set up next to the tiger with a television, a stereo and room for people to sleep.

"We had a hot dog eating contest last night - things just to get students out here and have a good time," Knobloch said. "Nobody's really going to come mess with it. If they do, they're going to get chased off and the police are going to get called."

The damage, however, has already been done. The tiger doesn't have a tail - and hasn't for quite some time.

"One of our administrators here on campus was involved with that," Goodwin said. "It broke off and they buried it somewhere."

For many years, Henderson State and Ouachita Baptist were NAIA programs. They now compete in the NCAA as part of the Gulf South Conference. The game is sponsored by a dairy.

This weekend's clash is the season finale for both teams, and Ouachita coach Todd Knight compared it to a bowl. Last year, the Tigers scored 27 fourth-quarter points in a 43-36 victory.

Henderson State will be out for revenge this time, and because the Reddies are on the road - such as it is - the stakes might be even higher since they're the ones who have to walk home afterward.

"You definitely don't want to take the walk of shame, which is when you go to their house and lose and you come back," Keppner said. "That's the walk of shame."