The Davenport Panthers weren't picked by anyone to contend in the GLIAC, but here they are with a shot at winning it all.

From Nearly Worst To A Shot At First

Last season, the fairly new Davenport University football program sat near the bottom of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) with a 2-5 record. This season, the Panthers are undefeated and have earned a shot at the big boys, with back-to-back games against long-time conference elites, Ferris State and Grand Valley.

Much of the turnaround can be attributed to Rockford native Jason Whittaker's play at the quarterback position.

Whittaker, who transferred from Northwestern in the Big Ten, has turned the Panther offense around from averaging an anemic ten points per game in 2021 to close to 40 points per game this season.

The Panthers are ranked 13th in the nation in the NCAA's Division 2 Coaches Poll, and fifth in the Super Region 3 playoff rankings. 

Courtesy Davenport Football
Courtesy Davenport Football

The Chance To Prove Themselves Comes In The Next Two Weekends

The Panthers will begin their hopeful title run this Saturday at 1:00 pm on the road in Big Rapids against defending Division 2 National Champions, the Ferris State Bulldogs. The Dawgs are currently ranked fifth in the nation, and third in Region 3.

The Dawgs are still smarting from their loss a few weeks back to Grand Valley, and cannot afford a loss if they are to defend their title.

Davenport head coach Sparky McEwen is familiar with the Ferris team, having been an assistant under current Ferris mentor Tony Annese before coming to helm the Panthers.

“Sparky and his staff have done so well with them,” Annese told the Big Rapids Pioneer. “He’s put them together unbelievably well and they’re a very good team; It will be a huge challenge for us.”

The key Saturday will be if the Panthers' defense can keep FSU's powerful offense off the field long enough to keep Whittaker's offense within reach.

If The Panthers Survive Ferris, GVSU Awaits Next

The gauntlet continues the following week when Davenport hosts the current number one team in the nation in D2, the Lakers of GVSU. The traditional season ender will be on November 12 at Famers Insurance Stadium on Davenport's Caledonia Athletic Complex off the M6.

Regardless of what transpires this weekend in Big Rapids, or in Allendale, where GVSU hosts Wayne State, the Lakers will be playing for the GLIAC title against Davenport.

“I told (McEwen) my heart is for this team and I’m going to do whatever it takes to win,” Whittaker recently told WOOD-TV. “I don’t know if I’m going to play after this and I just love these guys. I was just like, ‘Coach, let’s do this.'”

“I don’t want to walk away from this game without giving it everything I have,” he added.

Whatever happens, the Davenport team has earned their shot at the big time in Division 2, something the Panthers never thought they would have had after last season.

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