Games moved, postponed ahead of Florence

The Category 4 hurricane is expected to reach the Carolinas in the coming days, leading to schedule changes for college, high school and even pro sports

Several college and pro sports teams canceled games for this weekend, meaning there won’t be a repeat of the NC State-Notre Dame splashfest from Oct. 8, 2016. The two teams managed just 13 points in the Wolfpack’s 10-3 win in the monsoon-like conditions at Carter-Finley Stadium caused by Hurricane Matthew. (Christine T. Nguyen / North State Journal)

What promised to be one of the better college football weekends in North Carolina this season, with a battle between potential Heisman Trophy candidate quarterbacks scheduled for Raleigh and a visit to Chapel Hill by the self-proclaimed defending national champions, has been wiped out by Hurricane Florence.

Both North Carolina and NC State announced Tuesday that their respective home games — the Wolfpack against West Virginia and the Tar Heels against Central Florida — have been postponed because of the approaching Category 4 storm. Then East Carolina announced its game at Virginia Tech was also postponed.

No immediate plans for rescheduling the nonconference games have been announced, although all three schools issued statements saying that efforts to do so are underway. There is also a possibility that replacement games against other opponents could be scheduled on each team’s current bye date.

“Hosting a major college football game is a massive undertaking that on a good day involves fans and thousands of state, local and campus personnel, including public safety officials, traveling from all over the area,” UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement announcing the cancellation of his team’s game at Kenan Stadium, who urged fans to cancel hotel reservations so that the rooms might become available for evacuees and first responders.

“The current forecast for both the impact and aftermath of the hurricane would require those officials to divert critical resources from what could be much more significant duties. We can’t know for certain the amount of damage the storm will inflict, but the sensible decision at this time is to not play the game.”

NC State issued a similar statement saying that it was “in the best interests of the safety and well-being of fans, student-athletes and all parties involved” for Saturday’s game to be scratched.

The decision not to play was an especially difficult one for the Wolfpack, which was anticipating a sellout crowd at Carter-Finley Stadium for the showdown between its quarterback Ryan Finley and West Virginia’s Will Grier — two of the nation’s most prolific passers.

State also has a history of playing well in bad weather situations, having overcome the pouring rain and wind of Hurricane Matthew for a 10-6 victory against Notre Dame two seasons ago.

That’s why coach Dave Doeren on Monday suggested that he wouldn’t be disappointed if the game was played as scheduled despite concerns over the conditions.

“It was a unique challenge two years ago,” Doeren said. “It would be hard to imagine playing in that again. But if we do, our guys will certainly have an experience like that to relate to.”

Perhaps because of that experience, State was reluctant to give up the home date against the Mountaineers. According to WOWK-TV in Huntington, W.Va., Wolfpack officials reportedly rejected an offer from West Virginia to play the game at its home stadium in Morganton, with State getting all the profits.

UNC officials did actually consider moving their game against Central Florida, either to the Knights’ home stadium in Orlando or to a neutral site such as Montgomery, Ala. But the logistics couldn’t be worked out.

The cancellation could end up working in the Tar Heels’ favor. After two straight losses to open the new season, they will now have an extra week to prepare for their ACC opener against Pittsburgh next Saturday in Chapel Hill.

“I would love for it to be sunny and 70 degrees out there every time we play the game, but we don’t control those things,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “Everybody would love to have the ideal situations, but unfortunately, it’s not like that in the game of football.”

The UNC and State games aren’t the only ones around the state adversely affected by Hurricane Florence.

Elon also announced that its game against William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., has been canceled. Campbell’s game at Coastal Carolina was moved to Buies Creek and set to be played on Wednesday because of the storm, while the starting time for Wake Forest’s ACC opener against Boston College in Winston-Salem on Thursday was moved up two hours to 5:30 p.m.

Duke’s game against Baylor in Waco, Texas, will be unaffected by the storm. High schools from across the state have also moved up or postponed athletic events in response.

In baseball, the Durham Bulls’ Governors’ Cup Finals series will be played entirely at PNC Field in Scranton, Pa., home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Games 3, 4 and 5 of the series were originally scheduled to be held at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The Carolina League’s Mills Cup championship series was also altered, with the scheduled best-of-five series shortened to a one-game winner-take-all championship game on Tuesday, in which the Buies Creek Astros beat the Potomac Nationals 2-1.