UNION TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — There was a mass exodus of students from Union High School classes Monday morning.

Hundreds of students were furious their varsity football team was forced to forfeit a state semifinal game because of COVID-19. They lodged a protest outside the Board of Education building.

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“I’ve seen my coaches the last few years more than I’ve seen my family. So for them to take everything the last four years away is heartbreaking. It’s not fair at all,” said senior Najee Pinckney.

The top-seeded Farmers were scheduled to play against Paterson Eastside last Friday, but learned that morning Superintendent Scott Taylor canceled the game because four Union players had tested positive for COVID.

The team, led by four-star defensive back Davison Igbinosun, immediately sat down with Taylor to dispute the decision.

“We pointed out the contradiction that he made with allowing 22 negative-tested players to go back to the school, deeming it was safe enough to go back to the school, but not safe enough to play the football game,” Igbinosun said.

As students protested outside of the board office Monday, Taylor told CBS2’s Christina Fan he stands by his call, after consulting with medical experts, but has appealed to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to reschedule the game.

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“I’m absolutely not upset with the kids. They handled themselves with aplomb. I’m somewhat upset with NJSIAA. I’d really, really would like for them to reconsider and understand the need to make accommodations in this extremely unique time during the pandemic. Our No. 17 [state-ranked] football team deserves to play,” Taylor said.

But the outlook appears bleak.

That’s because Fan reached out to NJSIAA Monday for comment and a spokesperson directed her to its policy, which reads, “NJSIAA will not delay or modify any state tournament schedule for a team that cannot participate due to COVID-19 issues.”

“We fight through adversity all the time during the season, and this is just like another part of adversity,” Pinckney said.

The players say if football has taught them anything, it’s to always keep fighting.

Union, the defending sectional champions, was 9-1 at the time of the cancellation.

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Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Nov. 15.

Christina Fan