“The Stump,” a durable redwood barrel that might ordinarily be tossed into a wood chipper, is a wood-carved trophy that symbolizes a rivalry spanning six decades and a lifetime of high school football. Its a tradition that has remained uninterrupted since 1965 — even through the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Soquel High was built after Santa Cruz High School split in two in 1962, half of the student body was moved to the new school. Teammates were made into rivals overnight and a tree stump from Soquel’s campus was made into a trophy. It became a token of legend that the two schools have duelled over for more than 60 years. 

Despite the pandemic delaying the matchup in 2020, Santa Cruz and Soquel clashed for “The Stump” once more on Apr. 9.

“You’re always having that internal debate, do we turn it up a notch because it’s a rivalry game? Or do we treat it like a business trip?” said Offensive Coordinator Jeff Mccormick, who played offensive line at Santa Cruz High in the early ‘00s and has coached there for 18 years since. “[We’re] just keeping internal focus, you know, and just making sure we do our job and handle it.”

Due to the pandemic, local high school football teams opted to play a shortened local season of a few games against in-county opponents. This was initially designed so teams wouldn’t cross county lines to play, and has resulted in an explosive rivalry schedule. 

The Santa Cruz Cardinals flew to victory at The Soquel Knights’ field in a late game thriller, claiming “The Stump” and local bragging rights for another year. In what is locally known as “The Stump Game,” Santa Cruz got the final stop on a forced fumble by junior Josh Bendix to win the game 21-14. 

The Cardinals were aggressive on offense, with quarterback Josh Bendix making plays from outside the pocket and Santa Cruz’s running backs smashing through the inside of the field. Soquel came out in an unconventional run-heavy, double wing T offense that had some success and ate up time on the clock, but ultimately had them down 14-7 at halftime. 

Soquel switched quarterbacks at halftime, sliding Tanner Jones out of the second receiver spot and into the QB spot that he usually occupies. This adjustment proved effective as a strong Soquel drive led to the game being tied at 14. With the game tied, quarterback Josh Bendix drove the Cardinals downfield again and scored his second touchdown, giving Santa Cruz the lead. 

After running down the entire fourth quarter clock, Soquel sought to pass to their dominant wideout, senior Darius Bedford. But Bendix came in at linebacker and forced the fumble that ended the game, securing a 21-14 victory for the Cardinals.

“It was amazing, I was just lost for words right there,” said Bendix. “You could have seen me passed out on the floor, just lost for words.” 

The Cardinals will faced the undefeated Aptos Mariners, who had a bruising 49-6 win against Soquel two games ago on March 26. The top-ranked Mariners sit first in the conference and have yet to win by less than 49 points in a game. The Santa Cruz Cardinals have a big task of their own, and will look to defend their home field by closing the season with a win on their senior night.

“[I’m] extremely thankful,” said Santa Cruz Cardinals Coach Jesse Trumbull. “We were about a day away from having to tell these seniors they probably weren’t going to go to season at all. And they had been extremely determined and loyal and hardworking and continued to prepare for something they didn’t even know would happen.”