ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WNCT) — The 2021 Military Bowl, which was slated to pit East Carolina against Boston College, will not happen after it was learned members the Eagles team had come down with COVID-19.

“This is painful to digest. I’m hurting for the young men representing our football program,” ECU head coach Mike Houston said in a statement posted to Twitter on Sunday. “We are crushed that we can’t compete on Monday and allow our seniors one final opportunity to wear the Pirates uniform. Everyone 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.”

The two teams were slated to play Monday at 2:30 p.m. in Annapolis, Md. Both teams had arrived in Washington, D.C. and held practices and other activities as late as Saturday. That also included a meal for the Pirates on Saturday night.

ECU Athletics Director Jon Gilbert said he and Boston College AD Patt Kraft had been in communication “the last two days, and he phoned me a short time ago (Sunday) to inform me the Eagles would not be able to participate in the Military Bowl due to COVID-19.

“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,” Gilbert went on to say in a Twitter post. “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.”

It is unlikely ECU will have a chance to play in another bowl game. The Hawaii Bowl, slated to be played between host Hawaii and Memphis, was canceled just before Christmas Eve due to COVID-19 cases and injuries within the Hawaii program. also reports the Fenway Bowl between SMU and Virginia, slated for Dec. 29, has been canceled due to COVID-19 cases within Virginia’s program.

Wake Forest had its original opponent for the Gator Bowl, Texas A&M, drop out due to COVID-19 issues. Later in the week, the NCAA allowed Rutgers, which finished with a 5-7 regular season, the chance to play in the game.

“This is a terrible situation obviously,” Military Bowl President & Executive Director Steve Beck said. “We appreciate everyone who worked so hard to try to make the game happen. Of course, the health and safety of the players and coaches is top priority. The decision not to play is understandable, but disappointing.

“The Military Bowl Foundation’s mission is to raise funds for and support the nation’s service members. The Bowl is a big part of this, so it is devastating to think that it could impact our ability to make a positive difference for those who serve our nation.” 

The Military Bowl Parade and the Military Bowl Tailgate Festival, scheduled for Monday morning, also has been canceled.

Reaction to the news spread quickly on social media. In addition to Brian Bailey’s coverage of the Military Bowl activities from Washington, D.C., WNCT’s Ken Watlington and Garrett Short were also there to provide extended coverage of Monday’s game.

The Military Bowl marked the first time since 2014 that the Pirates had appeared in a bowl game. The Pirates finished the regular season 7-5.

The Military Bowl was also not played in 2020 because of the pandemic. The game, which began in 2008, was last played in 2019 when North Carolina beat Temple.