NEW FRANKLIN Ethan Wright says he has no idea how many rushing yards and touchdowns he has this season, nor does he know where he stands on the various Manchester football all-time statistical leaderboards he's spent the past four years climbing.
What the senior running back does know is that he's not ready to stop climbing yet.
"We feel really good right now ... we're excited," Wright said. "I have no clue (what his stats are) ... I've just never paid attention to them really."
For the record, Wright ended the regular season with 1,776 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground, setting him up for a potential third 2,000-yard season in a career that seems likely to go down as one of the best in the history of a storied program that has seen its share of good running backs.
That chance at another 2,000 yards was highly in doubt one month ago, when a pair off surprising losses in the fifth and sixth games of the season sent Manchester tumbling to 3-3 and in doubt when it came to the postseason.
The four wins that followed came in alternating fashion, as a close win was twice followed by a rout, but each went in the W column of the standings and propelled the Panthers to yet another playoff berth. According to Wright, what he and his teammates heard in the wake of losses to Tuslaw and Triway galvanized them to keep fighting.
"We felt that people counted us out after we lost to Triway and Tuslaw, but we kept fighting," Wright said. "They didn't think we'd be able to play with the teams we had to beat."
Those doubters were wrong, as triumphs over Fairless and Northwest set Manchester up for a whale of a two-week finish to the regular season. First, there was Orrville, state-ranked, undefeated and the eventual second seed in Division V, Region 18 - one region away from the Panthers, who were making a move toward the top in Region 17.
The Red Riders, the defending state champs, stunned Manchester with two long, defensive touchdowns in the first half and maintained a 26-6 lead late in the third quarter.
That's when Wright did what he's done so many times before, reeling off touchdown after touchdown to fuel a charge by his team. All three of his scoring runs were from two yards or closer, but the third one was the knockout punch in a 29-26 win that made a major statement.
A win over CVCA in Week 10 completed the 4-0 run to end October and set up a home game in the first round of the playoffs against a local rival against whom Manchester hasn't had much experience. Rootstown, which has risen through the ranks in the Portage Trail Conference in recent seasons, isn't quite the juggernaut it's been the pat few seasons, but the Rovers are 7-3 and have some big-game experience to their credit.
Fortunately for the Panthers, so do they.
"The younger kids getting experience there in those games and having it under their belt is big," Wright said of the chances the team's underclassmen have gotten over the past month. "Us seniors are definitely playing for more and we know these are our last games together and our last games playing for (head coach Jim) France."
Wright noted that the seniors want to continue to play a part in the longtime head coach's push for 400 wins and their aim to extend their own careers dovetails nicely with that mission.
While he'll continue his career next year with the Duke Blue Devils, Wright knows the last game - whenever it comes - this season will be the final time most of his teammates play a football game. He remembers seeing his older brothers, Austin and Nick, play a part in the memorable 2013 playoff run that saw their Manchester team go all the way to the state semifinals before falling, turning in record-setting rushing numbers along the way thanks to names such as Mason Hayes, Austin Klein and Johnny Beavers.
Now, he has his last chance to author some of those great memories as his brothers watch and cheer him on, along with his teammates and in front of a community that loves its football as much as most any in Northeast Ohio. However many yards and touchdowns are left to amass, wins are the only stat that really matters this time of the season.