The low murmurs from a restless crowd echo from end to end of Myrtle Street on April 16. The band, the cheerleaders, and the Aptos Mariners await the appearance of the Santa Cruz Cardinals on the field. As the band roared and the announcer’s voice crackled over the PA system, Santa Cruz High School seniors were honored with their families in their final game, scrimmage or no scrimmage, finishing a once-in-a-lifetime season under the Friday night lights. 

The Santa Cruz Cardinals played the goliath Aptos Mariners, who at that point had yet to lose a game or score less than 49 points, on April 16. Despite the 42-0 loss, Santa Cruz held Aptos to their lowest score of the season. Head Coach Jesse Trumbull and his staff had been anticipating this game for a long while.

“This is a game we started preparing for months ago, when it was supposed to be played the first week of the season. And then everything got put on hold and COVID moved this around again,” Trumbull said. “So now that we are going to get to play this game, we go back to the old game plan, and we tweak it with some new information and revamp it slightly.” 

Practices for the initial game were without a ball or pads, as health restrictions limited many fixtures of a normal football practice. Multiple players and coaches voiced frustration with inconsistent rules and restrictions set forth by public health officials. 

“It was stressful, telling us we can go and then telling us we can’t,” said junior running back Quentin Brown, who was sidelined with an ongoing hamstring issue. “Once they finally just let us go, it felt really good to get back into our routine of practicing every week with a game on Friday.”

Andrew Whitmeyer, Stephen Nama, Tyler Loftis, Alberto Guitierrez-Perez, Jack Bacon, Franz Pohlman and Trey Hernan stroll down the sideline pregame. Photo by Thomas Sawano.

Coach Trumbull said once practice returned to normal, they were able to hone in on their original style of play. Hard-nosed fundamental defense combined with offensive development from core players allowed Santa Cruz to secure a 3-2 record on the year. 

While the Santa Cruz Cardinals showed signs of life, including a near 50 yard fumble return by Kaleb Wolmack, they were outgunned by a Mariners team with nearly twice as many players as the Cardinals. However, seniors Landon Hiley, Collin Rasmussen, and Tyler Loftis all had major contributions on the defensive side of the football on their night of celebration.

While not the way a player would want to end a season, junior quarterback Josh Bendix said the game was still meaningful. 

“During those 14 long months, all of us as a collective unit were just grinding — lifting in the gyms,” Bendix said. “We would come out to the field, sometimes we would get kicked off because they’d say ‘there’s too many people on the field’ so we had to head over to depot [park]. I just feel like teams underestimate us, ’oh you guys are a small team,’ but really we all work hard together and I feel like no one can really stop us once we get the ball rolling.”

Bendix, Brown and the Cardinals will begin their 2021-22 campaign in six weeks when their spring workouts begin.

The Cardinals also will be sending off a strong group of seniors: #5 Tyler Loftis, #11 Collin Rasmussen, #12 Cooper Koening, #28 Landon Hiley, and #50 Stephen Nama.