A funny thing happens when you score 70 points in your first two games and roll to pair of lopsided victories.
“All of a sudden there is a bulls-eye painted on your back," said Manchester High School football coach Gerard O’Donnell.
With the Hawks setting the pace in Shore Conference Class B South, they are now a target for opponents craving an upset.
Friday night, 7 p.m., surging Manchester plays in the most tradition-rich environment in the Shore Conference when it plays at 1-1 Brick. The atmosphere and the spread offense the Green Dragons operate out of figure to be a challenge for the Hawks.
“With our senior leadership, I don’t know that our team will get caught up or overwhelmed with all that," O’Donnell said. “Our rule is we enjoy a victory for 24 hours and then we go back to work. We had a good practice Monday and I was very pleased by that.
“Our seniors understand what they have put in to building our program. If they are going to make it a positive season, they know they have to be able to go about their business each week."
Brick, under first-year head coach Rob Dahl, is coming off a 16-7 victory over Lacey. The Dragons lost in Week 1 to Brick Memorial, 16-7.
“They proclaimed that Brick football is back," O’Donnell said. “They have talent. They use their players well. They have a new coach, a fresh start and they are believing again. Brick football has one of the richest traditions in the state. But I think our kids know what it’s about."
Brick, which once thrived on the running game under legendary coach Warren Wolf, now features a multiple wide receiver attack. Quarterback Brandon Kieslor runs the productive offense. Last week, against Lacey, Kieslor threw a 15-yard touchdown to John Fuino. Fuino also scored on a 38-yard run.
Brick’s offense figures to be a test for the Manchester defense, which had yielded first-quarter touchdowns in both victories over South Plainfield and Barnegat.
“Our kids have been resilient," O’Donnell said. “The most important thing is we have kept playing. We have made some mistakes early in games that have led to big plays."
However, the adjustment by the coaching staff, have worked.
O’Donnell said safety A.J. Thomas and defensive end Barry Rose and outside linebacker RoMello Muldrow have sparked the defense.
“Those three boys have played better than I expected," O’Donnell said.
This week, however, the best defense may be Manchester’s offense. If the Hawks can drive the ball and control the clock, Brick’s offensive opportunities will be limited.
Tailback Joey Johnson has been one of the most prolific offense players in the Shore Conference thus far. He has rushed for 327 yards in two games on 67 carries. He has already scored eight touchdowns.
Johnson’s success can be attributed to the consistent effort of a veteran offensive line, which has won the match-ups at the line of scrimmage. O’Donnell noted that guards Steve Bick and Zach Helme played a strong game in the victory over Barnegat last week.
“Teams have to either try and stop Joey (Johnson) or at least slow him down," O’Donnell said.
The Hawks, however, have a balanced attack and have the ability to move the football through the air.
Quarterback Tim Rogers has been efficient in the passing game.
“He has gotten our receivers involved," O’Donnell said. “In the first game he threw to five different receivers. In the second game, he threw to six different receivers.
“We started the season without a returning wide receiver," O’Donnell added. “He has done a great job of developing chemistry with those kids."
Brick plays a 4-4 defensive with cover three in the secondary.
“They mix fronts and do a lot of things to keep you off balance," O’Donnell said. “We need to decide what we are going to do and stick with it. We feel like we have the ability to run or pass."
Manchester, which is looking to be 3-0 for only the second time in school history, is discovering the games get bigger with each victory.
“We are 2-0 and it’s a big game," O’Donnell said. “If we hope to compete for a conference championship, this is the next challenge we have to overcome. I think that’s how our kids will look at it."