91st annual BOTR.
ARKADELPHIA, Ark. – The Ouachita Tigers’ football team (9-2) clinched its third Great American Conference championship and snapped Henderson State’s 31-game away win streak with a 49-42 victory over the Reddies (6-5) in the 91st Battle of the Ravine Saturday afternoon.
“When you put all together and do it all at the same time, it’s just amazing," Ouachita Head Coach Todd Knight said. "First of all, the Battle of the Ravine. It wouldn’t really matter if there was something else on it; it’s just fun to win that game. For these guys to come back after the two early losses and go 9-2 and win the conference and now have a chance to go to the playoffs, it’s just a great feeling for the guys. They’re so deserving. The way they practice. The work they put into it off the field.”
The Tigers’ Drew Harris had a remarkable performance, scoring all seven of the Tigers’ touchdowns in the game, four of which were rushing touchdowns and three of which were receiving. Harris finished the game with 153 receiving yards and 58 rushing yards.
“[Harris] led our devotion last night,” Knight said. “He’s a motivator. He’s more than just a great football player; he’s a great young man. Coach Derby and the offense staff put him in position, but he’s a phenomenal player. He makes the plays. He gets it done.”
Harris’ performance highlighted an efficient showing for the Tiger offense. Redshirt-senior quarterback Austin Warford completed 85 percent of his passes, while the offense did not turn the football over one time. The team also had a perfect red zone conversion rate, scoring every time the team had the ball within the Henderson 20-yard line.
The Ouachita defense put in a solid showing as well, stopping the Reddies when it needed to and forcing three turnovers. Senior linebacker Luke Holt led the team with 14 total tackles while also forcing a fumble and recovering another. Defensive backs Zach Miller and Tevin Jones accrued 11 tackles each.
The win gives the Tigers their first GAC championship since 2014. The win also draws the Reddies’ all-time series lead to 43-42-6.
The Tigers opened the game hot. Henderson elected to receive the game’s opening kick-off, but fumbled the football on the return. Ouachita recovered the football and scored three plays later on a nine-yard pass from Lucas Reed to Drew Harris.
Henderson responded on its next drive, however. The Reddies drove 79 yards in 13 plays and capped off their drive with a two-yard rush from Andrew Black. The drive lasted for more than seven minutes and tied the score at seven.
On Ouachita’s next drive, the Tigers were able to score very quickly thanks to a long pass from Austin Warford to Drew Harris. Harris outran the entirety of the Henderson defense before diving into the end zone to give Ouachita a 14-7 lead.
The two teams would trade possessions before Henderson answered Ouachita’s score with another touchdown of their own. The Reddies went on an eight-play, 54-yard drive which ended in a one-yard touchdown rush.
Ouachita’s Allie Freeman performed an excellent return on the ensuing kick-off, giving Ouachita the football on the Henderson 40-yard line. After a short run, Warford found Harris once again for a touchdown. Warford threw the ball to Harris across the middle of the field and Harris evaded the Reddie defenders for a 38-yard touchdown.
Ouachita’s defense forced a three-and-out on the next drive, and the Tiger offense took over on its own 34-yard line. Two long passes carried the Tigers down the field before Drew Harris pushed the ball into the end zone from the two-yard line to score his fourth touchdown of the game and raise the Tiger lead to 28-14.
Ouachita had a chance to extend its lead to 35-14 before the half, but a Henderson stop on thrird-and-short forced Ouachita to punt the ball back to the Reddies. Henderson quickly drove 80 yards to score on a two-yard touchdown pass with just 11 seconds remaining in the first half. Ouachita took a knee to run out the clock with a halftime lead of 28-21.
The Tigers opened the second half with the football and drove down the field for a score. After 13 plays, Drew Harris ran the football 16 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. Henderson responded quickly though, with an eight-play drive ending in a 12-yard touchdown rush.
Just a few minutes later, the Ouachita offense found success once again. Two Austin Warford passes brought the Tigers down to the two-yard line where Harris punched the ball into the end zone for his sixth touchdown of the game and extended the Tiger lead to 42-28 with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Ouachita’s Luke Holt forced a fumble early in Henderson’s next possession and gave the Tiger offense the ball on the Henderson 34-yard line. Henderson forced Ouachita to go attempt a fourth-down conversion, but committed a defensive pass interference which gave Ouachita a first down. A few plays later, Drew Harris scored his seventh touchdown of the game on a two-yard rush and gave Ouachita a 49-28 early fourth quarter lead.
After the Ouachita defense forced another fumble, the Ouachita offense found themselves with good field position on its next drive. The Tigers were unable to convert, however, as Cole Antley pushed a 39-yard field goal attempt wide to the left. Henderson took over and covered 78 yards in 11 plays to draw the score back to 49-35 with 6:40 remaining. Henderson’s Cobra Jones finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown rush.
Defense seemed as if it would prevail for the remainder of the game, but Henderson scored a late touchdown with just under five seconds remaining to draw the score to 49-42. The Reddies then recovered the ensuing onside kick, but their last-second touchdown attempt went to waste as Ernest Reed dragged the Henderson quarterback to the turf and forced an errant pass.
The Tigers will know their seeding for the NCAA Tournament tomorrow at 4 p.m. when the playoff bracket is released.