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Tennessee football power rides 31-game winning streak into York-Adams region Friday night

PATRICK STROHECKER
YorkDispatch


McSHERRYSTOWN — Delone Catholic and Union City have relatively little in common when it comes to football pedigree.

In just the past six years, the Golden Tornadoes have won three Class A state titles, while the Squires have only ever tasted District 3 gold and never won a state playoff game.

Union City is also working on a 31-game winning streak that dates back to Aug. 30, 2013. Delone is a mere 30 games short of that mark, which technically doesn't even constitute a winning streak.

But, the biggest difference between the two schools is the states in which they compete.

Union City is a small school of about 440 students nestled in the northern-most part of Tennessee, about seven miles from the Kentucky border and some 817 miles south and west of McSherrystown. But, on Friday night, the two will share the same field, with the Golden Tornadoes making the 14-plus-hour trek north for the out-of-state match-up that will see the two programs meet up for the first time.

"It's a neat opportunity," Delone coach Corey Zortman said at practice on Tuesday. "This probably won't happen again in quite some time."

An unusual match: Zortman is right. A game like this, between two teams several states apart, won't likely happen again anytime soon. The only reason this is on the schedule in the first place is because of two distinct reasons. The first being that the Squires had a scheduling problem for the third week of the season last year and this year. Because of the way high school scheduling works in the area, teams normally pencil in each other for two-year cycles the same week of every year, with each team getting a home game. Last year, Delone couldn't find an opponent for Week 3, so it played St. Paul's (Maryland), losing 41-18. But, St. Paul's wasn't an option for 2015, so it left the Squires with another open date on their schedule for Week 3 this season.

"Trust me," Zortman said, "we didn't go out searching to play one of the best teams in the country."

Meanwhile, Union City is a team that's been so dominant over the past couple years that it was having trouble scheduling opponents for non-league games. The Tornadoes feature a physical, beat-you-down, triple-option attack that, over the course of a game, wears down opponents. Teams generally avoided Union City if they could, especially since the Tornadoes were capable of beating schools two or three classes above it.

"We started out looking locally, of course, and didn't find anything, so we branched out into Kentucky, but nothing worked out with the scheduling," Tornadoes coach Darren Bowling said. "We went into Mississippi and then realized that we were going to have to drive four or five hours to play no matter what, and so I went to the principal and said: 'Look, we're going to have to drive four or five hours to play, so let's just go somewhere good for these kids, get them out of Union City and take them somewhere educational.'"

Educational trip: Originally, the plan was for Bowling's team to play a school in the Washington, D.C. area, eventually finding a team in Baltimore looking for an opponent. But, when that team decided it didn't want to play Union City, it was back to square one for Bowling. However, a week later, that same team directed him in the direction of Delone.

"I talked to their principal and the principal said: 'Hey, this is our 75th anniversary and we have a big week planned and we don't have a football game,'" Bowling said. "(The principal) said: 'You'd all be doing us a great favor if you could come and do it.' So I went and talked to our principal and superintendent and they both agreed to do it."

The educational trip is still part of the plan for Union City. It already took a tour of the Gettysburg battleground and will also stop in D.C. to visit some of the monuments and other historical sites, such as Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial.

The two teams will also get together on Thursday night for a catered dinner at the school, as a way for the two sides to meet each other, but also as a way for the Tornadoes to help Delone celebrate its 75th anniversary.

Put at a disadvantage: Come Friday night, however, the two teams will engage in a game that, for the most part, doesn't mean anything. On paper, it's a 10th game to fill out the Squires' schedule, but since the PIAA doesn't recognize out-of-state competition, it won't have an impact — win or lose — on Delone's District 3 rating. When battling for a district playoff berth, it puts the Squires at a disadvantage, only having nine games to be rated on, rather than 10. So, it's certainly something that Zortman would like to avoid in the future.

"If I had my choice, there's 500-some teams in Pennsylvania," Zortman said. "The one thing it does to us, is we start out the season with nine games that are eligible for district points when everyone else gets 10. So win or lose, we get zero. Plus, the local rivalry games are always my preference."

Up for the challenge: Still, the game presents a unique opportunity for Zortman's team. It'll take a special effort by Delone to knock off one of the premier programs in the state of Tennessee. Aside from Union City entering on a 31-game winning streak, it also rarely is ever in a dog fight. In three of the Tornadoes' four games, they've mercy-ruled opponents, which puts a running clock into effect anytime a team is up by 35 points or more in the second half. Union City is also outscoring its opponents 233-69, a scoring average of 58.3 points per game, while only allowing 17.3.

Zortman doesn't have a whole lot of expectations when it comes to Friday's game, but said he just wants his team to go out and compete and show that they belong on the same field. And while he likes the local rivalries, Zortman also acknowledges that he has a few players that have dreams to play college football. Now, they'll get that chance to see how they stack up against a team that is sure to have a number of kids sign with college programs.

"They're looking forward to it," Zortman said about his team. "There's a lot of guys on our team that would like to play college football and these are the type of athletes that they're going to see. I think it's a good opportunity for them to, not only showcase our school and our team, but also showcase themselves against really good talent. If you're going to put together a highlight reel, then what better way to do it than against a team with the type of athletes that they're going to put on the field against us."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com; follow him on Twitter @P_Strohecker