A group of boys walked near a field at the Friday Night Lights flag football league in Costa Mesa two weeks ago. The boys were members of the Arizona Wildcats team. They were in awe about what they saw on the field: a team of girls, playing flag football and playing well.
"Did you hear about those girls?" one boy said to his teammate. "Those girls are winning. They're undefeated."
There's fascination when it comes to the North Carolina Tar Heels of the Friday Night Lights fifth- and sixth-grade division. But there's also respect. The Tar Heels are the only all-girl team. They are also the only undefeated team of the 26 teams in the division, as they ran their record to 8-0 two weeks ago after beating the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 18-12.
The Tar Heels enter Friday's playoffs as the No. 1 seed and aim to stay alive through the next four elimination games.
"They all get mad when we beat them," Sadie Pitchess, 12, said of the Tar Heels' opponents. "It's kind of funny watching the coaches get mad."
Wake Forest wasn't particularly happy with Pitchess, who recorded two key interceptions in the game, the latter securing the victory. She also scored the go-ahead touchdown, breaking a 12-12 tie, after she caught a TD pass from quarterback Gabi Valeriano.
"It's really fun for us because we are all friends, and we just have fun," Valeriano, 12, said.
All those girls having fun are Pitchess, Valeriano, Jenna McConnaughey, Jordan Needham, Riley Foster, Mia Ferrentino, Keni Fritts and Mia Burns.
This is their first football experience. The majority of them play the other football, soccer.
"It's awesome because everyone thinks that we can't play," Ferrentino, 11, said. "Then they see us play and they're like, 'Oh, they can.'"
Ferrentino is the fastest girl on the team, and probably the tallest. She said she recently broke three Newport Beach City Meet track and field records in sprint events.
She's usually rushing the quarterback. Against Wake Forest, she picked off a pass and ran it back for a touchdown to give the Tar Heels a 12-6 lead.
The girls remained confident after Wake Forest tied it up, 12-12. Tar Heels Coach Dean Valeriano said it was the team's most competitive game.
Ferrentino remembers when the Tar Heels played their first game. The girls all thought they would lose because they didn't really know how to play yet.
But the Tar Heels made plays and won that first game, and it all snowballed from there, Dean Valeriano said. The girls continued to win and gain confidence. They also had a lot of fun.
After each game, they huddled and broke away, shouting a statement from a Montell Jordan song that was released before they were all born.
"This is how we do it!" they shout.
"We were hearing, 'We're losing to girls! We're losing to girls!' That was the first two weeks," Dean Valeriano said of Tar Heel opponents. "And now they see we can play."
The coach said he recently picked up team pictures and told the person distributing them that he was with the North Carolina Tar Heels.
"The person said, 'Oh you mean the all-girls team? I heard you guys are undefeated. I saw you guys last week. Great job,'" Dean Valeriano said. "It's very cool, very cool to hear the responses from the players, parents and coaches."
The parents of the Tar Heels players have also been enjoying the undefeated season. Doug McConnaughey said his daughter, Jenna, has been having fun, playing a new sport with all her friends, the majority of them from Carden Hall School in Newport Beach. Jenna attends Harbor Day and Fritts goes to Lincoln. The rest of the girls attend Carden Hall.
"I think the novelty thing playing against all boys was fun, but the girls they get really intense," Doug McConnaughey said. "It's just fun to see."