NEW FRANKLIN — The line of scrimmage belonged to Manchester Saturday night at James R. France Stadium.
Whether the host Panthers (8-3) were on offense or defense, they were the dominant team in a 35-0 win over Sandy Valley (9-2) in a Division V first-round playoff game.
“Manchester is a really good team who I give 100 percent credit to,” Sandy Valley coach Brian Gamble said. “Ethan Wright is the real deal like we knew he was going to be.”
Manchester will play Levittsburg LaBrae at 7 p.m. next Saturday at a site to be determined. LaBrae topped Wickliffe 21-0.
Wright, a junior, was one of Manchester’s three playmakers on Saturday along with junior Hunter Foster and senior Angelo “AJ” Johnson.
“We have three good backs back there, and other than some penalties and a couple of fumbles by our quarterbacks, offensively, we played pretty perfect football,” Manchester coach Jim France said. “The big thing was our defense. They have been averaging 40 points or something like that, but our defense shut them down real good. We had good pass coverage, we got good pressure on the quarterback and we held their running back to minimal yardage.”
Wright rushed for 266 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries, Johnson had 134 yards and one touchdown on seven carries, and Foster added 71 yards on 16 carries.
“Ethan is a great player,” France said. “We have a good fullback in Hunter Foster ... and then AJ Johnson came through tonight. When you get those three backs in the backfield, they can’t gang up on Ethan, and Ethan blocks well and they block for each other. They are a trio who like each other and they all like to play football.”
Manchester established its running game on the opening possession with a 14-play, 82-yard drive that featured runs by Wright, Foster and Johnson. Wright ended the drive with a 6-yard run to the end zone with 5:46 to go in the first quarter, and junior kicker Pierce Adey followed with his first of five extra points.
Sandy Valley then took possession of the ball and gained one first down before Manchester senior Michael Paljich grabbed an interception and sprinted 50 yards for a touchdown with 4:23 left in the first quarter.
By the end of the quarter, the Panthers held a 14-0 lead and Wright had seven carries for 52 yards.
Wright then took over in the second quarter with two more rushing touchdowns that gave Manchester a 28-0 advantage at halftime. He opened the quarter with a 31-yard touchdown run at 11:48 and added a 3-yard touchdown run at 2:50.
“Today, we came out firing in the first quarter and our offensive line came out attacking,” said Wright, who finished the first half with 16 carries and 245 yards. “Our running backs had holes to make plays and our defense gave up zero points.”
Johnson ran for the lone touchdown of the second half when he broke right and sprinted 85 yards down the sideline with 9:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Manchester’s offensive linemen Sam Hettich, Jake Baker, Devin Adkins, Nick Esterlee and Caleb Noirot were dominant up front. Hettich and Baker were also impressive on defense along with senior Gaven Kinsey and freshmen Riley Soles and Jadon Johnston.
Johnston had an interception in the end zone with 1:57 to go.
“When we play physical, I think we can beat anybody,” Hettich said.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com.