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Holiday Bowl game officially canceled due to COVID-19 issues

The UCLA football team said that they were unable to participate due to COVID-19 protocols. Holiday Bowl organizers were unable to find a replacement team.

SAN DIEGO — Holiday Bowl organizers confirmed Wednesday that the SDCCU Holiday Bowl between UCLA and North Carolina State at Petco Park has been officially canceled because they were unable to find a different opponent for the Wolfpack.

Holiday Bowl officials released the following statement:

"Sadly we are announcing that the 2021 SDCCU Holiday Bowl is cancelled.  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.  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!"

Statement from the San Diego Padres on Holiday Bowl ticketing:

"All tickets, suites and parking purchased through www.padres.com or www.ticketmaster.com for the canceled Holiday Bowl game at Petco Park 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."

Original story below:

Just hours before kickoff, the SDCCU Holiday Bowl between UCLA and North Carolina State at Petco Park was abruptly called off Tuesday due to COVID-19 issues within the Bruins football program.

"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."

It initially appeared that the game was canceled, but Holiday Bowl officials indicated Tuesday evening 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," SDCCU Holiday Bowl CEO Mark Neville said, referring to North Carolina State's athletic director.  

UCLA said only that the team was withdrawing "due to COVID- 19 protocols within the Bruins' program." Details of the COVID issues were not released.

"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," the NC State football program tweeted.

The announcement came around 12:30 p.m., just hours ahead of the scheduled 5 p.m. kickoff of the 43rd annual Holiday Bowl.

NC State football coach Dave Doeren, speaking to reporters in San Diego, expressed frustration at the last-minute announcement, 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 Holiday Bowl is the fifth bowl game to be canceled or called off 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 game was going to be the first football game ever played at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. 

It was scheduled to be UCLA's second appearance in the Holiday Bowl. The Bruins lost to Baylor, 49-26, in the 2012 game.

UCLA (8-4) was heading into the game on a three-game winning streak. This season was the first time since 2015 the Bruins have won at least eight games in a season. The last time they won more than eight games was 2014.

It was also going to be UCLA's first bowl appearance since 2017 when it lost to Kansas State, 35-17, in the Cactus Bowl. UCLA's bowl record is 16-19- 1, including losses in its last two bowl games.

North Carolina State (9-3) has won four of its last five games. The Wolfpack were 18th in most recent Associated Press poll, which was released Dec. 5, three spots higher than the previous week. UCLA is unranked.

North Carolina State's appearance would have been its seventh bowl appearance in eight seasons. It has a 17-15-1 bowl record, including losses in its last two bowl games.

It would have been the third meeting between the teams. UCLA won 21-12 in 1959 and 7-0 in 1960. The 1960 game was the last time the Wolfpack played in California before the Holiday Bowl.

WATCH RELATED: San Diego's Holiday Bowl in 1986 and 1991 

Fans said they found out on social media.

“We found out through Twitter, and it's kind of surprising like why would they let us know so close to the game?” said NC State Fan Doug Miller.

It's been difficult for those who traveled far from North Carolina.

"I don't really understand what's changed, it seems like we made it through the regular season without any impacts, and then suddenly during bowl season, it is either the rules have changed, or more than likely because we are in the midst of a Covid outbreak come and there's nothing we can do,” Miller said.

It has also been a sudden change for the college teams staying at the Marriott Marquis and now told it's time to go due to no game.

“They are almost a 100% vaccinated team, so it should not have been an issue in terms of anyone's actual health. They were all at SeaWorld the other day yesterday, they all went on the Midway, they managed that but could not manage to get here for a 5 o'clock kick off,” said UCLA fan Tom Shortridge.

Shortridge was excited to see his daughter Faith in the Holiday Bowl Parade part of UCLA's Band's Color Guard, but he also wanted to see UCLA play.

There were so many spirited UCLA fans in town, who were left stunned at no bowl game. Steve Hess and Steve Peeler say they are “Bruin fanatics.” They were halfway to San Diego driving on Interstate 5 when they received the bad news.

“We should’ve learned 24 hours before. It would've been a really good game, very exciting because both teams are very good on the offense end. We are Triple vaxxed both of us, so we thought there should be no problem,” Peeler said.

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