Ohio’s season took another disappointing turn on Friday.
And now the questions begin about the remaining game on the schedule.
Ohio University and the Mid-American Conference announced the cancelation of Saturday’s game between the Bobcats (2-1) and Buffalo (4-0) around 1:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The Bulls were already on their way, via bus, to Athens for Saturday’s scheduled 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
The cancelation was the result of more positive COVID-19 tests within the Ohio program, the subsequent roster collateral damage caused by contact tracing.
“The University at Buffalo at Ohio University football game on Saturday, December 5 has been canceled due to roster issues with the Ohio football team related to positive COVID-19 tests and subsequent contact tracing,” the MAC said in a released statement. “The game has been declared a no contest.”
The cancelation leaves Buffalo as the 2020 MAC East Division champion. The Bulls lead Kent State (4-1) in the division standings and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Golden Flashes. UB will be in the MAC title game on Dec. 18. Ohio has not won the MAC championship since 1968.
The game was the second this season to be canceled for Ohio due to COVID/contact tracing issues. OU also lost its game at Miami on Nov. 17.
The game was the third lost in the MAC this season. Kent State canceled its trip to Miami for a game this Saturday earlier this week.
With Ohio and Kent State both facing COVID issues, there is doubt if either team will be able to play in the regular-season finale. The Bobcats are to play at the Flashes on Saturday, Dec. 12.
The Bobcats seemed on track to play for most of the week. Head coach Frank Solich was optimistic on Monday when asked about the state of his defense, which has bore the brunt of the COVID-related absences this season.
“We’re really not going to be at full strength, but we’re closer to being at full strength than we have been,” Solich said Monday. “
“We didn’t really fully recover from the Miami situation, but we recovered enough to where we were able to play the game,” the coach continued. “Guys are still trickling back. That’s promising, and that’s certainly what you’re after.”
Ohio seemingly had a normal week of preparation. On Tuesday, running back Julian Ross – the MAC East Special Teams Player of the Week – said the team had put two walk-on players on scholarship. Offensive lineman Brody Rodgers and defensive end Bryce Dugan, who both started in Ohio’s Nov. 28 home win against Bowling Green, were added to the scholarship roll.
The Bobcats practiced as scheduled on Thursday, which indicates it was probably the most recent batch of testing that decimated Ohio’s roster (or at least a particular position group or two) to the point that it could not field a team to face the Bulls on Saturday.
Solich, earlier this season, said the Miami postponement was the result of just two positive tests and the ensuing contact tracing. Ohio, as of Friday afternoon, had not released any information on the scope of positive tests within the program at the current time.
“Through a combination of injuries, positive cases and contact tracing, it was determined by our medical professionals that it was not safe for our student-athletes to compete this Saturday,” Ohio University said in a statement.
The university added that, as of Friday afternoon, the Bobcats’ game at Kent State was still scheduled.
Buffalo coach Lance Leipold said his team was ready to play and didn’t have a single positive test this week.
“While we are disappointed our game at Ohio has been canceled, the health and safety of our student-athletes continues to be our top priority,” Leipold’s statement read. “I’m extremely proud of our student-athletes, coaches and staff. They have done everything the right way during these difficult times.”
Saturday’s game was to be the home finale for the Bobcats this season. The program had planned to honor 11 seniors in some sort of fashion. In previous seasons, those honored on Senior Day have not returned the following season even if they had eligibility remaining.
The NCAA has stated that the 2020 season will not cost any player a year of eligibility. A handful of Ohio seniors asked throughout the season indicated no firm decisions had yet been made about whether to return to the Bobcats for 2021.
The players who were to be honored on Saturday included running backs Jonathan Barna and Ja’Vahri Portis, quarterback Armani Rogers, defensive tackle Kai Caesar, defensive end Austin Conrad, offensive linemen Brett Kitrell, Hagen Meservy and Cole Irland, linebacker Jared Dorsa, and tight ends Adam and Ryan Luehrman.