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Holiday Bowl in San Diego is off after Covid forces UCLA to drop out hours before kickoff

Covid-19 protocols forced the Bruins off the field and scuttled their football game against North Carolina State.
Zach Charbonnet
UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet in a game against the University of Southern California Trojans on Nov. 20 in Los Angeles. Kevin Reece / via AP

UCLA bowed out of its scheduled football game Tuesday against North Carolina State, pulling the plug on the Holiday Bowl in San Diego just hours before kickoff.

A little after 12:30 p.m. PST, the school announced it would not be playing due to Covid-19 "protocols within the Bruins' program."

The San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl officially announced the game was not going to be played less than two hours before it was set to kick off at Petco Park at 5 p.m. local time.

"We are disappointed and heartbroken the SDCCU Holiday Bowl won’t be played tonight," organizers tweeted at around 3:30 p.m. PST. "Absolutely heartbroken. We will communicate more information soon."

The San Diego Padres, who play at Petco Park, announced that further information would be released regarding refunds for the game. The Holiday Bowl is considered one of the upper-tier bowl games not played New Year's Eve or Jan. 1.

As bowl organizers officially called off Tuesday's action, NC State conceded that the Wolfpack would be headed back to Raleigh without having played a game.

Despite that seemingly definite statement by NC State, Holiday Bowl organizers Tuesday night still held on to a sliver of hope that college football could be played at Petco Park.

"We do not want to cancel the game officially until we have exhausted every opportunity to find a replacement team," the Holiday Bowl said in statement a little before 7 p.m. local time on Tuesday when UCLA and NC State should have been in the third quarter of their regularly scheduled game.

But by Wednesday morning, Holiday Bowl organizers admitted there was no way to find a replacement for UCLA on such short notice and called it quits for 2021.

"We are especially heartbroken for our ... volunteers and staff who spent so much time and effort into planning an incredible festival of events," according to a Holiday Bowl statement.

As Covid-19 cases spike throughout the nation, a host of postseason college football games — including the Hawaii, Military, Fenway and Arizona bowls — have been canceled due to infections of players on participating teams.

The Sun Bowl, which lost the University of Miami to a Covid-related withdraw Sunday, survived only because Central Michigan University was just 4 1/2 hours away in Tucson when its Arizona Bowl opponent, Boise State, had to back out.

And the Gator Bowl, which lost Texas A&M to Covid, was forced to invite 5-7 Rutgers to keep its contest, featuring powerful ACC runner-up Wake Forest, from cancellation.

The semifinals of the College Football Playoff are set for Friday, ahead of the title game now set for Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.

With Covid-19 cases spiking across the country because of the omicron variant, CFP officials conceded last week that teams could advance to the final, or one even declared a champion, by Covid forfeits.