LOS ANGELES - Holiday Bowl organizers formally announced the cancellation of the game Wednesday, acknowledging they were unable to find a replacement team for UCLA, which was unable to play due to COVID-19 protocols within the Bruins' program.
"Sadly we are announcing that the 2021 SDCCU Holiday Bowl is canceled. We worked closely with Boo Corrigan and the fantastic NC State Athletics staff to try and find a replacement team for UCLA, but were unable to do so," Mark Neville, the game's CEO, and Bob Bolinger, its president, said in a statement, referring to North Carolina State's athletic director.
"We are especially heartbroken for the student-athletes and of course, our RedCoat and RedShirt volunteers and staff who spent so much time and effort into planning an incredible festival of events, culminating in a premier bowl game. We are so lucky to have tremendous relationships with our title sponsor -- San Diego County Credit Union, Fox Sports, our civic and other sponsor partners and, of course, our fans.
"We also want to acknowledge and thank the San Diego Padres and the Petco Park staff for taking us in and transforming the ballpark into a world- class football facility. We look forward to coming back in 2022 and putting on one heck of a show."
All tickets, suites and parking purchased through ticketmaster.com or padres.com will be automatically refunded. Suite holders will not be charged for any pre-ordered food or beverage. All refunds will be processed automatically with the card used at time of purchase being credited within 30 days.
If tickets were purchased through a third-party site such as StubHub and SeatGeek, guests should contact the site directly for refunds.
Bolinger presented the trophy awarded to the game winner to Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren Wednesday in downtown San Diego.
"After exhausting every possibility and contacting numerous schools personally and through the Holiday Bowl, we have no other option than to end our season," Corrigan said in a statement. "As disappointing as this stunning turn of events was, we must not let it diminish the accomplishments of our 2021 football team or forget the moments of joy that they brought us.
"I commend coach Doeren, this staff and especially our players for making great decisions and doing the right things to ensure that they were ready to play every week and all the way until yesterday. I cant wait to watch them run it back in 2022."
This is the second consecutive year the Holiday Bowl has been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement that the game was called off came around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, about 4 1/2 hours ahead of the scheduled 5 p.m. kickoff of the 43rd annual Holiday Bowl, the first to be played at Petco Park.
"We are extremely grateful to the Holiday Bowl, students, fans, sponsors and the people of San Diego for their support this week," UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond said in a statement.
"We are deeply disappointed for our young men in the football program that worked extremely hard for this opportunity. My heart goes out to them. The health and safety of our students will always be our North Star."
The university said only that the team was withdrawing "due to COVID- 19 protocols within the Bruins' program." Details of the COVID issues were not released. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reported that the UCLA defensive line was "decimated" by COVID.
Holiday Bowl officials indicated Tuesday night that the game could possibly be rescheduled with a different opponent for the Wolfpack.
"The entire SDCCU Holiday Bowl family is heartbroken that we were not able to play the bowl game tonight. We do not want to cancel the game officially until we have exhausted every opportunity to find a replacement team, and we are working closely with Boo Corrigan and his great athletics staff at NC State," Neville said.
The North Carolina State football program tweeted: "Heartbroken to not be able to compete one more time this season. We were informed a short time ago that our opponent would be unable to play this evening."
Doeren, speaking to reporters in San Diego Tuesday, expressed frustration at the last-minute cancellation, suggesting UCLA should have been more open about the possibility of a COVID disruption.
"Felt lied to, to be honest," Doeren told reporters, according to ESPN. "We felt like UCLA probably knew something was going on, didn't tell anybody on our side. We had no clue they were up against that. I don't feel like it was very well handled from their university. It would have been great to have had a heads up so two or three days ago we could have found a Plan B. Disappointing."
In a statement posted on Twitter, Jarmond said the decision to pull out of the game was made following COVID testing results on Tuesday. Those results prompted the team's medical staff to deem it "unsafe for us to compete."
"While we had isolated COVID challenges, we were still in a position to compete up until today," he said. "I am truly disappointed for everyone who was involved with the game -- student athletes, fans and staff from both UCLA and NC State that traveled to San Diego. Thank you to everyone for your support and understanding."
The game was going to be the first football game played at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.
The sale of SDCCU Stadium -- where the Holiday Bowl had been played since its inaugural edition in 1978 through 2019 -- to San Diego State University in 2020, and its demolition to make way for a west campus and Aztec Stadium, left the bowl game without a home.
The Padres announced a partnership with the San Diego Bowl Game Association in July allowing the Holiday Bowl to be played at Petco Park for a minimum of the next five years, beginning this year, dependent on City Council approval, which was granted later in July, overturning a previous ban on football at the downtown baseball stadium.
The Holiday Bowl was the fifth bowl game to be canceled due to COVID- 19 issues, following the Arizona, Fenway, Military and Hawaii bowls. Two others -- the Gator and Sun bowls -- had to change their matchups because of the coronavirus.
The Wolfpack concludes their season 9-3, with victories in four of their last five games. North Carolina State was seeking its second 10-victory season in school history. Its 2002 team was 11-3 led by longtime Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. The Wolfpack were 18th in most recent Associated Press poll, which was released Dec. 5. The Bruins were unranked.
The Holiday Bowl was to be the first bowl appearance for UCLA (8-4) since the 2017 Cactus Bowl. This was the first time since 2015 the Bruins won at least eight games in a season. The last time they won more than eight games was 2014.
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