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Mike Lopresti | | November 12, 2019

Why no one wants to play Henderson State on the road

DII football plays of the week

This was Oct. 29, 2011; a windy and sunny day in Mobile, where South Alabama, moving into Division I, forced seven turnovers and put a 28-3 whipping on Division II Henderson State.

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Why does that matter six years later? Because it’s the last time Henderson State lost a road football game.  “Yeah, I remember that one,” coach Scott Maxfield was saying over the phone this week. “They had 85 scholarships, we had 36. We got some money to go play the game. We were actually in the game until the fourth quarter.”

He hasn’t had to come up with a post-defeat talk to his team on the road since. Of the streaks bouncing around college football, this is one of the more noticeable – the Reddies have won 28 consecutive games in someone else’s stadium, not counting neutral site contests. That’s 13 more than anyone else in the nation, never mind what division, and the longest in D-II history. So much for the rigors of the road.

(One disclaimer: Division III juggernaut Mount Union has won 132 consecutive regular season road games, back to 1991. A playoff loss last season ended its overall road streak at 114. Mount Union collects victories in the fall like rakes collect leaves).

The natural question is how they’ve done it? Besides the fact Henderson State has had a lot of good football teams.

“We’ve pretty much kept the same road schedule since 2011, we just have our same routine that we go through,” Maxfield said. “The kids have grown up in that system.  I guess they know what to expect.

“When we’re on the road, we band together as a team. We don’t have as many distractions as we do at home, and for our faraway trips we stay at a hotel, like Division I. We have great team unity on the road and I think that plays into our hands. We kind of like that situation. It’s something that we talk about and think about now as a team, so we’re proud of that streak and want to keep it going.”

And no other coaches have called Maxfield and inquired about any secret formula for road success?

“Nobody’s asked me anything about it. I don’t know how much I’d share with them anyway.”

The streak has stretched from the home campus in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, to Ada, Oklahoma, Magnolia, Arkansas, Lebanon, Illinois, and Thibodaux, Louisiana. If you get the Reddies out of Arkadelphia, they’re a terror. While Henderson State has been going 28-0 on the road since the streak began in 2011, the Reddies are 22-11 in their own place. This season, they’re 0-3 at home, 2-0 on the road.

The Great American Conference was born in 2011 and they have never lost a league road game, now at 29-0. There have been close calls, many of them with the next door neighbor, Ouachita Baptist: That included the 41-36 win in 2011, when the Reddies made a goal-line stop on the 1-yard line on the last play of the game. The 60-52 three-overtimer in 2013. The 21-17 narrow escape in 2015 -- which was the season five of Henderson State’s six road games were decided by a single possession. One long whew.

“A rivalry game, anything can happen. The favorite doesn’t usually win that game,” Maxfield said of the Ouachita Baptist series. “We’ve had some really close games across the street.”

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And he means literally across the street. If the wind is right, you can hit a golf ball from the end zone of Henderson State’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium to the end zone of Ouachita Baptist’s Cliff Harris Stadium with a driver and 3-iron. The Reddies golf coach has done it. It’s a five-minute walk for Henderson State’s players to that away game, with state police stopping traffic on two-lane U.S. 67, so they can cross. The rivalry drew 12,228 in 2014 in Henderson State’s stadium, which was 1,500 more than every man, woman, child and football fan in Arkadelphia, Ark.

So the roadshow goes on, and between their streak and their three GAC championships, the Reddies can expect everyone’s best shot.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Maxfield said. “Anytime that we get on the road -- actually at home, too -- we have a target on our back. People are always wanting to get payback.

“We kind of embrace it. We look forward to it actually.”

Next up, a trip to Oklahoma Baptist this Saturday. And it’s not like the chance to make it 29 in a row will be a forbidden topic of conversation. Nothing superstitious about Scott Maxfield.

“We’ll talk about that most definitely,” he said. “Talk about it and try to embrace it and try to go forward with it.”

It can’t be easy, when every time you try to continue a streak, the crowd wants you stopped.

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