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N.C. State is first up for ECU on Labor Day weekend

Dec. 27—GREENVILLE — N.C. State is next.

East Carolina's rousing turnaround season was halted through no fault of its own over the weekend when Military Bowl opponent Boston College said it could not compete due to COVID-19 issues, injuries, opt outs and transfers. The news was met with expected backlash and anger from fans of the Pirates, many of whom had already gotten to the D.C. area for the game as had both the Eagles and Pirates teams.

The teams were to play on Monday afternoon in the Naval Academy's stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. ECU next takes the field on Labor Day weekend, hosting N.C. State that Saturday in the season opener for both teams.

"This is painful to digest," East Carolina football coach Mike Houston said Sunday. "I'm hurting for the young men representing our football program. We are crushed that we can't compete on Monday and allow our seniors one final opportunity to wear the Pirates uniform. Everybody involved with our program has persevered through adversity over the past two years during this pandemic, so it was extremely difficult to tell them the 2021 season is complete.

"This is a special group of young men who will be remembered for their hard work, sacrifice and determination to restore the prominence of our football program."

Boston College's Pat Kraft, the athletics director, issued a statement on behalf of his school.

"Unfortunately, due to cases of COVID-19 rising within our program since our arrival, along with season-ending injuries, opt outs and transfers, we just do not have enough players to field a team," Kraft said. "We are disappointed not to be able to finish the season together as a team, but the health and safety of our program is our highest priority."

ECU went 7-5 this year, tying for third in the American Athletic Conference behind College Football Playoff qualifier Cincinnati and runner-up Houston. Monday's game was to be the program's first bowl game since a loss to Florida, 28-20, in the Birmingham Bowl at the end of the 2014 season.

ECU won more games this season than any year since capturing eight in that 2014 campaign.

In his statement, ECU athletics director Jon Gilbert said, "We are obviously very disappointed to not be able to play the game. Our student-athletes, coaches and staff have worked tirelessly for the opportunity to represent ECU in a bowl game. Pirate Nation responded and were planning to paint Annapolis purple and gold. Unfortunately, we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but our priority remains the health and safety of our student-athletes."

This story authored by Alan Wooten of the Bladen Journal. Contact him at 910-247-9132 or awooten@bladenjournal.com.