The ball boy was beaming, thrilled that he had thrown a punch. He had been part of the melee. Now he thought himself to be a man.
The ejected player in the Megadeath T-shirt was boasting that he had hit a referee. The ref had been tugging at his jersey, he said, trying to get him to leave the field. So he punched him in the chest.
An adult fan stood on the sideline, grinning. Sure, he might have thrown a punch or two out there, but hey, what was he supposed to do, sit back and do nothing?
Friday night's Costa Mesa-Laguna Beach game was supposed to be a lackluster event, at best a showdown between the two worst teams in the Pacific Coast League, teams that were 2-5 and headed nowhere fast. Fans seemed to be in for a snoozefest.
Funny how a fight can change things. Funny how violence can make some people stand up and cheer.
It started in the third quarter, with Costa Mesa leading, 24-0. A couple of shoves between players erupted into a bench-clearing brawl. Within seconds, the field was swept by a wave of fist fights.
One against one, two on two, five on one . . . not just players, but coaches, officials, fans and a ball boy. Even a chain crew worker, who had tried to stop people from coming onto the field, was tackled and punched by a couple of thugs, affiliation unknown.
The ugliest sight, though, was in the Costa Mesa stands, where a couple hundred Rambo-brained fans seemed to rejoice in the melee below.
After about five minutes of chaos, officials finally gained control, sending most of the players back to their sideline and ejecting four others from the game.
Not surprisingly, each side blamed the other.
Laguna Beach said Costa Mesa was looking for trouble all night; Costa Mesa said a Laguna Beach player threw the first punch. Costa Mesa said a Laguna Beach coach came onto the field and punched Costa Mesa players; Laguna Beach said the coach was out there to help stop the fracas, but a Costa Mesa player went after him first.
What really happened might never be clear, and home video recordings will probably show each side whatever they want to believe. Like most fights, there was probably a good deal of buildup before any blows were thrown.
Some thought the game should have been called. Others didn't seem to think it was such a big deal. Afterward, Costa Mesa Coach Tom Baldwin said his team had just put together a 38-0 shutout, so why spend time talking about a fight?
"Does that really have to be in the story?" he said.
Fact is, many of the Costa Mesa players seemed especially proud of the way they fought. Some of them talked about team loyalty, how you have to fight for your teammate, whatever the cost, because that's what their coaches generally preach.
Others said they were just pleased to kick the you-know-what out of the rich little wimps from the beach.
One of three Costa Mesa Mustangs to be ejected said, "The ref was pushing me, so I pushed him out of the way."
A teammate said he was ejected for hitting an official, an offense that can result in the athlete being permanently banned from high school sports. Asked if he would act differently next time, he said maybe, maybe not.
"I'm not sorry for what I did," he said. "Right now, there's so many rules, it's too hard to show our emotions."
A weak excuse, one Greg Marshall wouldn't stand for.
If there was a voice of reason Friday night, it belonged to Marshall, the wide receiver/defensive back coach at Laguna Beach. While the Artists stormed off the field after the fight, some adults on the sideline encouraged them to seek revenge, to channel their hatred, to "go kick some butt."
But Marshall told them the truth.
He told them fighting is not the way; that they had embarrassed their families, their friends, their fans and themselves; that going back out there to get revenge wasn't going to get them anywhere they wanted to go.
He said this isn't a street fight, it's a game. So calm down, get focused, be mentally tough. Play football as it's supposed to be played.
Fortunately, his players listened. Perhaps next time, both sides will get it right.
Barbie Ludovise's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Readers may reach Ludovise by writing The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626 or by calling 966-5847.