In every year of their existence, the West Texas Drillers have made the playoffs and have never come up shorter than an appearance in the semifinals. Whether or not they extend that streak to nine years will come down to this weekend’s road trip to Novice, Texas, to face the West Texas Scorpions.
“I would say it’s a little unfamiliar territory for us,” Drillers owner Michael Heetland told Developmental Football USA. “I think it’s good for you sometimes, when you kind of breeze through the season, you don’t really get prepared for the playoffs. Then, when you match up with someone and get your back up against the wall, you don’t know how to handle it. I think facing a little bit of adversity has prepared us for the playoffs.”
At 7-2, the Drillers are by no means having a bad season. However, when the Rio Grande Football League East Division dropped to only three teams just before the season kicked off, it raised the stakes for everyone. The top two of the three teams will play a semifinal game for a ticket to the league championship.
The Lubbock Liberty Eagles, who clinched the RGFL East Division with a 52-12 win over the Scorpions last weekend, are responsible for both of the Drillers losses this season. Now, on Saturday, two teams that have never missed the playoffs in the Drillers and Scorpions each have a chance to make history.
However, due to margin-of-victory factoring in to break a tie, the Scorpions would need to win Saturday by close to 100 points to make the playoffs. So, the Drillers – led by a strong defense – have to like their chances.
“We’ve never been good at being behind in games,” Heetland said. “This year, we’ve adapted by being in some closer games. It’s humbled some of our guys and makes them more appreciate the wins and it helps the guys get their mind right and get ready.”
The Drillers already beat the Scorpions once this year, 20-16, at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland. At the developmental level, the road team is typically at a disadvantage because more dominoes are needed to fall their way in order for their team to show up in full force.
“Now, it’s at their house,” Heetland said. “Honestly, I don’t think home-field advantage really has anything to do with fields and stadiums. It’s just work and guys having to get off work. It’s more about the other team being short-handed, but as of right now it looks like we’re going to have another good turnout. I expect nothing other than a hard fought close game like last time we played them.”
Barring something completely out of this world on Saturday, the Drillers will get one last chance to travel to Lubbock in hopes of knocking off the Eagles and advancing to the RGFL Championship Game.
“I have no doubt that my team can beat them,” Heetland said. “We faced some adversity this year, but we’ve been right there with them both times. I’m not a guy to say we gave a game away, but we had several chances to capitalize against them and we didn’t capitalize.
“When we played them the first game of our season, they already had two or three games under their belt up in Lubbock. I’m looking forward to taking care of business Saturday and I hope we get another shot at them.”
With several teams home to West Texas, new teams coming and going every year, other teams switching leagues and the fact that players aren’t bound to their contract beyond one season – which some players still get out of by switching to a team in another league mid-year, before the signing deadline – you never really know what you’re going to get with developmental football.
Some teams never see a 7-2 record, but with the reputation they’ve built over the last nine years, some consider this a “down year” for the Drillers.
“I don’t really like the term rebuilding as far as this level is concerned,” Heetland said. “Every year, your team is a lot different than your team was the year before, when you compare it to high school, college or pro. I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re re-building. You get a group that’s been there awhile together, then eventually they get older and move on. Then, you get in new guys, so we teach them the ropes and the mindset of how we do things around here.”
Regardless of how the rest of this season plays out, the Drillers aren’t going anywhere.
“I’ve already got a lot of interest from guys asking about tryouts for next year,” Heetland said. “When you start getting a lot of new interest from quality guys popping up, it kind of reenergizes you and gets you fired up.
“The main thing with us is we want good quality games that are going to fill out our schedule. You don’t prepare for six months to play five games. We just want to put our team in the best situation to play quality teams, compete at a high level and play a full season.”