Weathering the storm: Late game heroics push GVSU past Davenport

GVL / Sheila Babbitt Nick Dodson during GVSUs football game vs Ferris State University on Oct. 13, 2018.

GVL / Sheila Babbitt Nick Dodson during GVSU’s football game vs Ferris State University on Oct. 13, 2018.

Brady McAtamney

On a day where the Wolverines traveled to East Lansing and the Chippewas hosted the Broncos, it would have been easy for the game between the No. 8 ranked Grand Valley State Lakers and the surprising Davenport Panthers – who both came in 6-1 (3-1 GLIAC) – to be buried in the football commotion on Saturday, Oct. 20. 

While a small crowd of 2,400 in Caledonia, Mich. may suggest that it was, the game itself ended up being anything but overlookable. The Lakers ended up beating the Panthers 19-14, but it took two weather delays, six total turnovers and a game-winning drive from a backup quarterback to seal the deal.

After GVSU quarterback Bart Williams took a hard hit to end the first half, he played the whole third quarter but gave way to second-stringer Cole Kotopka in the fourth. While down 14-13 with 2:53 left, Kotopka took the field looking to get the Lakers’ their first points since kicker JJ McGrath kicked a short field goal late in the third quarter. 

The drive appeared unpromising following four incompletions, a false start penalty and a sack for a loss of 10 yards, but a 24-yard completion to wide receiver Austin Paritee on fourth-and-15, a defensive pass interference on third-and-20 and, finally, a 53-yard touchdown catch-and-run by wide receiver Nick Dodson put the Lakers on top for good. 

“They had a good game plan,” Dodson said. “They were playing someone underneath and over top and I told them I wanted to play outside. I got the ball, made one defender miss, and was able to split defenders and get in the end zone.

“(I was) extremely (determined). Up to that point, the receiving crew wasn’t as explosive as we usually are. I just wanted to do that for the team.”

The usually exciting GVSU pass attack faltered for most of the game in part to strong winds, pouring rain, injuries and overall poor play. Williams threw one interception and no touchdowns while completing 15 passes for 175 yards; Kotopka completed only three passes for 81 yards, though the first down to Paritee and the touchdown to Dodson would have been plenty in the grand scheme of things.

“I feel like we were fortunate,” said head coach Matt Mitchell. “Tomorrow’s going to be very humbling. We didn’t play good football at all, we turned the ball over, very sloppy in the red zone, didn’t play good pass defense at all, had trouble getting to the QB, but I’m proud of our guys for sticking together. Things were not going good, but none of our guys faded and the offense supported the defense and vice versa. We have high character kids, and I think it showed at the end of the game.”

The Laker defense set the tone on the road, recovering three fumbles (one of which came on the same play as Williams’ interception to keep the ball in their possession), holding the Panthers to 4.6 yards per play and forcing seven punts. The special teams unit hurried DU’s punter multiple times to force several short fields as they averaged only 27.7 yards per punt. 

Perhaps the strangest part of the game was the impact of the weather. A game that was scheduled to kickoff at noon didn’t begin until 12:55 and then had another delay hit with about 90 seconds left in the first half, essentially wiping out the need for a halftime break as both teams stayed on field and went straight into the third quarter once the second ended, throwing off the routine of both teams.

Overall, a handful of performers and clutch plays moved the Lakers past the upset-minded Panthers. Running back Chawntez Moss gained 103 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries, Paritee caught seven passes for 127 yards, linebackers Isaiah Nkansah and Brendan McMahon pulled down 10 and nine tackles, respectively, and, of course, Dodson saved the day with his side-stepping, defender-splitting late-game heroics. 

Now 7-1 (4-1), GVSU will prepare for a trip to Saginaw, Mich. to face off with the rival Saginaw Valley State Cardinals (6-2, 3-2) in the annual Battle of the Valleys on Saturday, Oct. 27 with kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m.