When the Hermiston football team meets its next opponent at 7 p.m. Friday, it’ll be the toughest one they’ve faced the entire year.

After the Dawgs’ 63-38 blowout win over Milwaukie on Friday, the path to qualifying for the round of 16 bracket is blocked by undefeated Jefferson of Portland.

The Democrats, winners of the Portland Interscholastic League, have pounded opponents into submission throughout the entire year and have quality wins over Class 5A top-10 team Crescent Valley (26-14, Week 1) and Class 6A  power Grant (21-7, Week 3).

With a proven track record — the Demos have made it to at least the semifinals the past two years, losing in the title game last season — and scorelines that have been mostly lopsided, they have commanded the respect of the Hermiston coaching staff.

“They have all the weapons and all the tools a good team has,” Hermiston coach Mark Hodges said. “They have good size and good speed and will definitely be a challenge for us.”

To clinch the PIL title, the Demos blasted second-place Madison, 45-8, two weeks ago behind the strong play of quarterback Noa Aluesi.

The senior Aluesi, who has been the signal-caller for the Demos since his sophomore year, is an imposing figure for opposing defenses. He’s a 6-foot-7, 235-pound dual threat, throwing for 772 yards with nine touchdowns and running for 490 more, plus nine rushing touchdowns, this season. He was named an honorable mention all-state quarterback last season.

The weapons don’t end there for the Demos. Running back Josh Neal is nearly at the 1,000-yard rushing barrier with 913. He averages almost eight yards per carry with eight touchdowns.

On the defensive side of the ball, Jefferson is led by linebacker Masi Mohulamu. The senior averages 12.4 tackles per game, including 18 in the conference-clinching win over Madison. He has also recorded three sacks and has caused two fumbles.

Senior Alex Mitchell leads the team in sacks with nine. The 6-3, 310-pound defensive tackle clogs up the interior and has decent speed for a player of his stature.

Even though the Demos seem mighty and haven’t lost a game yet, Hodges thinks if his team puts together a solid effort, they definitely have a shot at winning in North Portland.

“It’s going to take our best game to beat them,” Hodges said. “But I think we still have our best football in front of us. If we put it all together, I think we have a shot.”

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