Dawgs eager to slay football giants

Hermiston’s Jeremy Holden tries to break the tackle of Milwaukie’s Reagan Weinert in the Bulldogs’ win over the Mustangs last Friday in Hermiston.

Hermiston football will need to play its best game of the year in its Round 2 play-in to send powerhouse Jefferson packing on Friday.

The undefeated No. 5 Democrats (10-0) boast several Division I prospects and some of the best football talent in Oregon, including among Class 6A schools.

“It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about who will win,” Hermiston coach Mark Hodges said. “It’s definitely a David versus Goliath situation, but the only thing that matters is what we think.”

In terms of sheer size, Jefferson towers over the Bulldogs. Besides its 6-foot-7, 250-pound quarterback, Democrats linemen outweigh Hermiston’s by 50 pounds per player on average, and three weigh 300-plus pounds.

Not to mention that 6-foot, 180-pound running back Josh Neal gets 8.46 yards per carry and jetted for 913 on the season; or Jefferson’s 267 ground yards and 36 points per game in Portland Interscholastic League contests.

To pull off an upset, Hermiston will need to out-tough Jefferson, said Hodges. Outsiders looking in see the team’s losing 3-6 record, but the Bulldogs looked more like 6-3 in their 63-38 play-in win over Milwaukie last week.

“I don’t think we’ve seen our real team yet,” Hodges said. “Hopefully no one has seen our best game yet, and that’s right within our reach.”

A top performance would come without Hermiston’s second most prolific runner, Rique Cardenas, with 330 yards this season. Lineman Dustin Rogers is out, awaiting a doctor’s clearance for an injured knee suffered a week ago.

But those setbacks are minor compared to what Hermiston has endured. Quarterback Tim Rude is back for his seventh career start, and four starters returned recently to his 377-yard, 32-points-per-game offense.

“We have the attitude that every time we step on the field we can win,” Rude said. “We’re just now getting back as a team and we’re going to be tough for any team to handle.”

Jefferson averages three points more per game than Hermiston at 36. The Bulldogs out-throw Jefferson by 112 yards per contest, and Jacob Almaguer rushed for 935 yards this year — 22 yards more than Neal.

“We can play with anybody in the state and we’re just as good (as Jefferson),” senior lineman Kevin Dopps said. “We think we have a great shot.”

Though undeniable underdogs, all of Hermiston’s players have faith they will win on Friday. Advancing to the final 16 teams in Oregon will mean beating one of the state’s biggest, fastest and toughest teams.

“If you play your best game, then win or lose you can hold your head high,” Hodges said. “And if Jefferson is going to win, they’re going to have to play their best game to beat us.”

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