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Fenway Bowl canceled after Virginia withdraws from game amid coronavirus concerns

Bronco Mendenhall's tenure at Virginia ended after the Cavaliers had to withdraw from the Fenway Bowl. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

The Virginia football team withdrew from the Fenway Bowl because of coronavirus-related complications, the school announced Sunday, and the game was canceled.

The scrapping of Wednesday’s Fenway Bowl came the same day that Military Bowl officials announced that game, scheduled for Monday in Annapolis, was canceled after Boston College withdrew because of a surge in positive cases. Previously, the Hawaii Bowl was canceled after Hawaii decided not to face Memphis on Christmas Eve for reasons related to the pandemic, and Texas A&M dropped out of the Gator Bowl against Wake Forest, only to be replaced by Rutgers for the New Year’s Eve matchup. Later Sunday, Miami announced that it would not be able to play in the Sun Bowl against Washington State.

“We are extremely disappointed the team will not be able to participate in the inaugural Fenway Bowl,” Virginia Athletic Director Carla Williams said in a statement. “Playing this game was something our team very much looked forward to.”

This is the second consecutive year in which issues associated with the virus led the Cavaliers (6-6) to skip their postseason appearance. Virginia qualified but opted out of a bowl last season. This year, a handful of players began displaying symptoms and tested positive the day before Virginia’s charter flight to Boston was scheduled to leave Charlottesville on Christmas. The entire team took tests Saturday morning, and athletic department officials elected not to play when additional results came back positive.

The decision also means Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall will leave the program without an official send-off after he surprisingly announced this month that he would resign, pointing to a need to reassess his priorities outside of football. Tony Elliott, the former Clemson offensive coordinator, will take over next season.

SMU (8-4), slated to be Virginia’s opponent Wednesday at the home of the Boston Red Sox, reportedly placed its travel plans on hold after originally intending to depart Sunday. Virginia being unable to play leaves the Fenway Bowl still seeking its first kickoff after complications related to the virus forced last year’s edition to be canceled as well.

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Last year, Virginia finished 5-5 and was eligible to play in a bowl, but the players voted to decline a bid because of mental and physical fatigue stemming from the season’s strict pandemic protocols.

The Cavaliers’ withdrawal this year means quarterback Brennan Armstrong will not get the 145 yards he needed to surpass Deshaun Watson for the ACC single-season passing record. The junior is considering declaring for the NFL draft on the heels of becoming the school’s single-season leader in total offense and passing.

Armstrong submitted paperwork to the NFL and is awaiting a response regarding his draft stock before making a decision, but Mendenhall indicated in his discussions with scouts and front-office personnel that he anticipates Armstrong being back next year. Despite nursing several ailments, most notably fractured ribs, Armstrong directed the Cavaliers to a fourth bowl bid in five seasons behind the second-best passing offense in the nation (392.6 yards per game).

Virginia has not won in more than two months and ends its year on a four-game slide, including a 29-24 defeat against Virginia Tech on Nov. 27 in the regular season finale at Scott Stadium. Several days later, Mendenhall revealed he would step down.

Mendenhall completes his time at Virginia with a 36-38 record but was 34-28 since 2017. Among his most notable accomplishments include guiding the Cavaliers to the program’s first Coastal Division championship in 2019 and its first appearance in the Orange Bowl the same year. He also brought in three quarterbacks who went on to set records at Virginia. The first two, Kurt Benkert (Green Bay Packers) and Bryce Perkins (Los Angeles Rams), are in the NFL.

“We want to thank the Fenway Bowl and its staff for their preparation to host the game and for their communication with us over the past few days,” Williams said in her statement. “We appreciate all of the hard work by our team and coaching staff. They earned this bowl invitation, and it is unfortunate they will not be able to compete in the game to complete the season.”