'Felt lied to': Accusations fly after Holiday Bowl between UCLA and NC State canceled
On Tuesday afternoon, some five hours before the game was scheduled to kick off, NC State found out it was the fourth ACC team to have its bowl game canceled. Unlike with Virginia or Miami or Boston College before them, the Wolfpack were clean. They played a full 12-game season a year ago during the height of the COVID pandemic and a full 12-game slate this season.
They were also gunning for their 10th win on the year, something that had only been done one other time in the program’s history.
But, due to COVID-related issues within the UCLA program, Tuesday night’s Holiday Bowl was called off.
“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.”
But NC State head coach Dave Doeren was less than pleased, and when he met with a small group of reporters he said nobody at NC State knew UCLA was dealing with any COVID-19 issues and the first time he had heard about it was when NC State AD Boo Corrigan told him the game was off.
“Felt lied to, to be honest,” Doeren said. “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.”
Asked directly if they would look to try and schedule something in the coming days to give the team a bowl game, he said he wasn’t sure whether it’d be logistically possible.
“This was an unfair thing that happened, and like all other unfair things there’s not going to be a rationale that makes it feel good,” the head coach said. “We’re going to have to deal with it and get ready for what’s next.”
A UCLA spokesperson declined to comment on Doeren’s statement, per the Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch.
“We would’ve won the game, no doubt about it the way our guys prepared,” Doeren said.
Since the announcement, UCLA coach Chip Kelly has been catching flak from all corners of the internet—and specifically NC State fans—for a comment he made during Monday’s coaches press conference when he said, “If someone comes down with symptoms later on this afternoon they will get tested. We will test kids up until game time. We have our fingers crossed… our mindset is if we have 11 we will play.”
But the Bruins reportedly saw their defensive line decimated by COVID protocols. The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman reported that UCLA was down to two interior defensive linemen on Monday, were planning to use a converted linebacker as the backup nose guard, and then had more COVID issues on Tuesday.
“UCLA’s statement makes it very clear that their inability to play was due to the protocols in place and not the virus itself,” Bowl Season executive director Nick Carparelli told ESPN. “I feel bad for both teams as well as the great people at the Holiday Bowl who worked so hard all year long for today. This continues to be a very sad and frustrating situation.”
No doubt, Wolfpack and Bruin players alike were upset with the outcome. Kenny Churchwell III, a UCLA defensive back, tweeted “man, oh man this one hurts.” Bruin quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson also tweeted “this is a terrible way to end such a great year for this team.”
But NC State wideout Thayer Thomas claimed that UCLA had a team vote on whether or not to play the game and voted not to play, a statement that Thompson Robinson and sixth-year senior lineman Paul Grattan Jr. both strongly refuted. Grattan went so far as to say “my family flew across the country just like yours did. Everyone wanted to play this game.”
a Team vote ? 🤣 we are still here in this hotel, if it was up to the players we can play y’all in the parking lot for all we care.
— DTR (@DoriansTweets) December 28, 2021
There was no vote on whether we should play or not. Now dudes are just making stuff up for likes and retweets. My family flew across the country just like yours did. EVERYONE wanted to play this game. https://t.co/XeFWaVel1D
— Paul Grattan (@Grattan65) December 28, 2021
Jarmond later followed up with a note saying that UCLA’s medical staff “deemed it unsafe” for the team to play given the COVID results the team returned on Tuesday. “While we had isolated COVID challenges, we were still in a position to compete up until today,” he said.
The Bruins’ season will come to an end at 8-4, the best record by winning percentage the program has enjoyed since 2014. Surely, though, they would have rather had an opportunity to take the field one more time.