Prior to this season, the prediction among most owners in the Rio Grande Football League was an eventual championship game between the Las Cruces Kings and the West Texas Drillers. While that scenario technically is still possible, the Kings have their backs against the wall just to get into the playoffs, but that’s hardly been the biggest surprise this year.
The Otero Desert Dawgs – which hadn’t won more than two regular season games in one year since 2011 – are the only undefeated team in the RGFL, at 7-0.
“I don’t really want to count the forfeit wins,” Desert Dawgs head coach Kyle Haynie told Developmental Football USA. “We’ve played five games and won five games, but in the books, it’s 7-0.
“This is the best start we’ve ever had. We won a championship way back (2009), but this is the best season we’ve had in five or six years.”
Not only has Otero maintained a perfect record on the year, they have won convincingly and have put most games out of reach before halftime. The one exception was a second half comeback win against the El Paso Armor.
“We went into that game and got down, but our guys played hard and we shut them out in the second half and won 10-7,” Haynie said. “All 10 points were scored by us in the second half.”
Last week, the Desert Dawgs thumped the Borderland Warriors 44-14 in a game that, in most places, would have been cancelled before kickoff.
While a one-year turnaround like this isn’t unheard of at the developmental level, no one outside of the Desert Dawgs organization saw this coming, and it’s not anything that can be credited to any single person.
“I really don’t like highlighting the players,” Haynie said. “If you asked me to pick the top five players, it would change every game. What’s changed off the field is dedication and practice numbers. Like I said the first time we spoke, the team that wins this league is going to be the team that travels the best.
“We got here with a strong defense, a good game plan on the offensive side every single week and the guys playing for each other and playing for the team. There’s no ‘Me, me, me’ factor. If you have that one guy talking about himself, that’s going to tick another guy off and be a cancer in your locker room, so you just can’t have that.”
The RGFL Playoffs will kick off June 3rd, but the Desert Dawgs aren’t looking past their final two league opponents.
“We have a big game against our long-time rival, the Kings,” Haynie said. “Dawgs versus Kings, it doesn’t matter what the record is, it’s going to be a hard-hitting game and both sides are going to bring everything they’ve got. It’s a big game for us, we want to build, we want to continue to get better, but the Kings are fighting for a playoff spot and they’re going to come hard.”
Next weekend, Otero will close out the regular season at home, in Cloudcroft, May 13, in a rematch against the Armor.
“I can’t say it enough how important the team aspect is for us right now,” Haynie said. “We’re playing solid defense and we have a well-called offense. It’s going great right now.”
If the league championship were today, the Dawgs would be playing the Lubbock Liberty Eagles, which in our eyes have earned the consolation prize for Surprise Team of the Year in the RGFL with a regular season sweep of the Drillers. However, there’s still a lot of football left to see how things shake out.
“We got to play the West Texas Scorpions when they came to play us,” Haynie said. “They’re a team with a lot of winning in their history. The Drillers are a team with a lot of winning in their history. Every time you play those teams, you have to show up ready to play hard or it’s not going to happen. Every Saturday or every Sunday, depending on when the games are, you have to come ready to play hard if you want to walk out with a victory.”
Prior to the season, the RGFL had 10 registered teams, but three teams folded near the last minute, which cut it down to seven and left team owners and the league commissioners scrambling to fill open spots. Many of those spots were able to be filled, thanks to the developmental football community working together.
“What this league has done, it shows the true professionalism of the owners we have in the RGFL,” Haynie said. “They’re professional. We haven’t having any issues with fighting or arguing, the professionalism has been amazing and hopefully we can build off of this year as a league, but credit to what the ownership has done and the league.”