Holiday Bowl can’t find foe for Wolfpack; game off

NCAAF

The San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl was officially canceled Wednesday morning — one day after UCLA pulled out of the game due to COVID-19 concerns, leaving NC State frustrated about the way the entire situation was handled.

UCLA on Tuesday announced it could no longer play the game a little more than four hours before kickoff. Athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a statement that the UCLA medical staff deemed it unsafe for the Bruins to play after COVID-19 test results from Tuesday.

The Holiday Bowl and NC State athletics director Boo Corrigan spent the rest of Tuesday trying to find a replacement team, reaching out to roughly 10 different teams. But given the short notice and the challenging logistics, they were unable to find a replacement.

That left NC State coach Dave Doeren still scratching his head Wednesday morning.

“It’s not the fact that we couldn’t play UCLA. If they had those medical issues, that’s just life,” Doeren told ESPN. “That’s not what we’re upset about. We’re upset that they had to have known prior to four hours before the game that this was a possibility, and communication would have been great. Surely they had an idea. A heads up so we could start calling these other schools that are out there to at least play would have been good.”

UCLA had several players who were going to miss the game due to COVID-19 protocols, but Doeren said there was no indication given there were ongoing issues in San Diego. During a pregame news conference on Monday, UCLA coach Chip Kelly said they would test up until game time.

“What’s gone on is our unvaccinated kids obviously get tested earlier in the week, but anyone who has symptoms will be tested after they report symptoms,” Kelly said Monday. “You could have someone go [Tuesday] on game day. So we’ve got our fingers crossed. Our whole mindset has been, ‘If we have 11, we’ll play.'”

On Wednesday, Doeren said that NC State knew that UCLA had four players who would be out but never had an inclination that it was more than that.

“You heard [Kelly] talk at the press conference I was in,” Doeren said. “They’re monitoring things and as long as they have 11, they’re going to play. There was no indication or communication this could happen on their end, so that’s what we’re disappointed in.

“Our players came from all the way on the other side of the country, and we had 10% of our players’ families that could even afford to come, so they’re away from their families on Christmas and sacrificed a lot. And to have the game taken away without communication was unsportsmanlike and a bad feel.”

Doeren said his team had zero COVID-19 issues headed into a game that was very meaningful for the Wolfpack program. At 9-3, NC State was going for a 10-win season for just the second time in school history.

Holiday Bowl officials came into the NC State team meeting on Wednesday morning and presented them with the bowl trophy. Doeren said NC State will count this as a victory in their record books, no matter how the NCAA views the game.

“I guess it’s a consolation because it sure doesn’t feel like a no contest when one team was ready and the other wasn’t,” Doeren said.

NC State will fly home to Raleigh on Wednesday.

“Our guys did all the right things, 100% of them, so it’s tough,” Doeren said. “I am sad for them.”

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