Ouachita Baptist University senior Michael Russell and his teammates went to practice Monday afternoon with one agenda.
“We all had to go out there and do our job for that day,” Russell said. “Tomorrow we are going to put on the pads and do our job that day.”
Oh, the Tigers know what lurks a few days down the road. At 11 a.m. CT Saturday at the new Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia, Ark., Ouachita Baptist, 3-1 and ranked No. 24 in the AFCA Coaches Poll, takes on rival Harding, which is 4-0 and ranked No. 12.
Adding just another level excitement is this is the first time Ouachita Baptist gets to play Harding in its new stadium that opened in 2014. And by the way, the game will be televised on the American Sports Network.
“The caliber of play and the atmosphere,” Ouachita Baptist coach Todd Knight said, “I am sure it will be a packed house. TV game and everything going on, makes it a game you want to see for sure.
“It is a huge rival. Those guys are so well coached. They do such a good job. We feel our kids are well coached.”
As Russell put it, this is Harding week. It means the Tigers needed to focus on their daily task instead of wasting mental energy Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, thinking about what will take place on Saturday.
“It takes the little things,” Russell said. “It takes going into practice one day and doing your job, your assignment that day and then going to the next day. You can’t look five days into the future towards the actual game day.”
That is how the Tigers have operated over the years. They have won two of the last four Great American Conference titles. A year ago, Ouachita Baptist went 10-0 in the regular season before suffering its only loss, falling 48-45 to Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
“Last year was a good learning experience,” Knight said. “The young guys are now the old guys. Being in that atmosphere and going through that stuff was great for these guys. They played in a lot of big games and won a lot of games in the past three years.
“Those guys understand what it means to play in a game like we have this weekend.”
Based on the results the last two years, expect a close game that probably won’t be decided until the final minute of regulation and there might even be bonus football. Last year Ouachita Baptist booted a 38-yard field goal by Matthew Ehasz in overtime to pull out a 31-28 victory at Harding.
In 2013, Ouachita Baptist took a 33-30 lead with 1:56 left only to see Harding complete a 74-yard pass play for a touchdown 44 seconds later and win 36-33.
“Games like Harding that comes down to the last minute, it is not really a feeling until you finish the game,” Russell said. “You are trying to do your job. Everybody on both sides of the ball, Harding and OBU, are coached so well that it is almost an equal match. Whoever does their assignment perfect and has the least missed assignments and whoever does their job the best turns out usually winning the game.
“When it comes to the very end of the game, you just have to fight until the 15 minutes are over because you know if you give up or they give up, the other team is going to win.”
In the last four years, the road team has won this game. Historically, this game has been close. The two teams first played in 1928 and it ended in a scoreless tie. They didn’t play again until 1960 and that game also ended in a scoreless tie.
“If you look back at the history of this game, what a rivalry,” Knight said.
The play on the field is intriguing.
“You get the spread offense versus the triple option, two solid defenses and great special teams. It is as good as you can watch,” Knight said.
For the Tigers, it means everybody has to do their job to contain Harding’s offense and the same goes for the other side of the ball.
Russell has seen that kind of effort from the Tigers since he has been at Ouachita Baptist.
“The main reason I picked Ouachita because it was unlike any other team that was recruiting me,” Russell said. “It was a team where the coaching staff emphasized family. You can go in there if you need help for anything and they have your back.
“They teach the guys on the football team to do the same for each other. We fight for the guy on our left and on our right. I don’t do it for me. I do it for the guy on my left and the guy on my right. That is what they teach us at Ouachita, play for the man next to you.”
Knight likes what the Tigers have accomplished on and off the football field.
“Our guys were involved in a Christmas project with foster children,” Knight said. “They are involved with the local schools here. These guys give back. We don’t really talk about it or brag about it because it doesn’t look right when you do that.
“I am very proud of the things they do and the way they work. I have a lot of respect for our team. I am glad I am coaching these guys. I like them a lot.”
Series history: Harding leads 30-22-4
Last meeting: Ouachita Baptist won 31-28 OT at Harding on Oct. 18, 2014
Total offense: Harding, 496.0 yards per game; Ouachita Baptist, 460.0
Total defense: Harding, 330.8; Ouachita Baptist, 441.5
Points scored: Harding, 44.8; Ouachita Baptist, 41.5
Points allowed: Harding, 20.5; Ouachita Baptist, 33.8
Thursday night football
No. 21 Concord, 3-1, travels to Charleston Stadium in West Virginia to take on the University of Charleston, 3-1, at 7 p.m. ET in an ESPN3 telecast.
At 3-1 in the Mountain East Conference, Concord and Charleston are in a three-way tie for second with Glenville State. Shepherd is in first place in the MEC with a 4-0 record.
Charleston leads the series 14-13, but last season Concord won 24-20.
Concord is coming off a 59-17 victory against West Virginia Wesleyan. In that game, sophomore running back Jamal Petty rushed for a career-high 171 yards on 17 carries.
Charleston also won last week, beating West Virginia State 34-13. The Golden Eagles used a balanced attack for the victory, rushing for 224 yards and passing for 187 yards.
Other games to watch
No. 8 North Alabama, 3-0 at No. 9 Valdosta State, 3-0, at 3 p.m. ET.
No. 20 Midwestern State, 4-0 at No. Angelo State, 4-0, at 7 p.m. CT.
Washburn, 3-1, at Fort Hays State, 3-1, at 7 p.m. CT.