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Petco Park. Photo by Chris Stone
Petco Park. Photo by Chris Stone

The first football game at Petco Park will be played Wednesday, one year later than originally planned, when Oregon faces North Carolina in the 43rd Holiday Bowl.

The sale of SDCCU Stadium — where the Holiday Bowl had been played since its inaugural edition in 1978 through 2019 — to San Diego State University in 2020, and its demolition to make way for a west campus and Snapdragon Stadium, left the bowl game without a home.

The San Diego Padres announced a partnership with the San Diego Bowl Game Association in 2021 allowing the Holiday Bowl to be played at Petco Park for a minimum of the next five years, dependent on City Council approval. The City Council granted its approval in July 2021, overturning a previous ban on football at the downtown baseball stadium.

The 2021 Holiday Bowl was scheduled for Petco Park, but UCLA withdrew hours before the planned opening kickoff “due to COVID-19 protocols within the Bruins’ program,” according to the university.

Organizers had sought a replacement for UCLA, but were unable to find one.

The 2020 game was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic before the site was announced.

With a capacity of 41,000, most fans at Petco Park will be closer to the field than was ever possible at SDCCU Stadium, even in the upper deck, according to the San Diego Bowl Game Association, which operates the game. SDCCU Stadium’s capacity was 70,561.

There were 4,500 tickets remaining as of late Tuesday afternoon, Rick Schloss, the Holiday Bowl’s director of public relations, told City News Service.

The first 10,000 fans through the gates will receive a ticket to SeaWorld.

The 101.5 KGB Sky Show will follow the 5 p.m. game, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the station returning to its previous call letters and 45th edition of the fireworks show synchronized to a rock soundtrack.

A high-scoring game is forecast. Oddsmakers have set the over/under at 75 points, the most of the 41 Football Bowl Subdivision bowl games whose matchups have been set.

Oregon was ninth in scoring among FBS teams entering Tuesday’s play, averaging 39.7 points per game. North Carolina is 23rd, averaging 35.

The Ducks are second in first downs per game, averaging 26.8, fourth in total yards per game, 507.8, fifth in red zone touchdowns with 46 and eighth in yards per play, 6.94.

North Carolina is ninth in passing yards per game, averaging 317.2, and 15th in yards per game, averaging 473.6.

Tar Heels’ quarterback Drake Maye and his counterpart with the Ducks, Bo Nix, are tied for second in the Power 5 with 42 total touchdowns, behind USC’s Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, who has 47.

Nix and Maye are among two of the three FBS quarterbacks with at least 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards. The other is Frank Harris of UTSA.

Maye is second nationally in total offense, averaging 366.8 yards per game, fifth in passing yards per game, averaging 316.5, and tied for fifth with 35 touchdown passes.

Nix is tied for 15th with 27 touchdown passes while his 14 rushing touchdowns are the most among all FBS quarterbacks, despite by hampered by an ankle injury in part or all of Oregon’s three most recent games.

Maye, a redshirt freshman, was the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year and 10th in voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Maye will be without his top target, Josh Downs, who opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL draft. Downs made a team-high 94 catches for 1,029 yards and 11 touchdowns despite missing two games.

Both teams have had their offensive coordinators depart since their last games.

North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo left for a similar position at Wisconsin.

“We’ll have Lonnie Galloway calling our plays, who has never called a play in a ball game, so it will be interesting,” Tar Heels coach Mack Brown said of his team’s receivers coach.

Oregon offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kenny Dillingham left to become Arizona State’s coach. Co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Junior Adams and tight ends coach Drew Mehringer will call the plays Wednesday.

The Ducks (9-3) lost their season opener to Georgia, 49-3, won their next eight games, then lost two of their next three, including a 38-34 loss to rival Oregon State in the team’s regular-season finale Nov. 26. Oregon was 15th in The Associated Press poll released Dec. 4.

North Carolina (9-4) has lost three consecutive games, including a 39- 10 loss to Clemson Dec. 3 in the ACC Football Championship Game. The Tar Heels narrowly missed a spot in the latest Top 25, placing 26th.

The Ducks’ roster includes three players from San Diego County — freshmen defensive backs Jahlil Florence and Jalil Tucker, both alumni of Lincoln High School, and redshirt freshman defensive back Darren Barkins, an alumnus of Mater Dei Catholic High School.

North Carolina’s roster also includes a Lincoln alumnus, senior defensive back Don Chapman.

Oregon is a 13- to 13 1/2-point favorite. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Ducks a 69.5% chance of winning.

After the New Year’s Six bowls, the Holiday Bowl gets the second selection among Pac-12 Conference teams following the Alamo Bowl. The Holiday Bowl is in a group with the Cheez-It Bowl and Gator Bowl that have the first picks among Atlantic Coast Conference teams following the New Year’s Six bowls.

This will be the first time an ACC team has played in the Holiday Bowl. Under an agreement announced in 2019, the ACC will supply a team for the game at least through 2025. The agreement was supposed to begin with the 2020 game.

The Big Ten had provided a team from 2014-19. The Pac-12 Conference has provided a team since the 1998 game.

The Ducks will be playing in the Holiday Bowl for the fourth time and first since 2008 when they defeated Oklahoma State 42-31.

The game will be televised by Fox.

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Ellen Bullock