War Eagle Extra

‘Holy cow’: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham's unlikely field goal block put Auburn on edge

Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham, right, blocks a field goal attempt of Auburn's Daniel Carlson in the second half Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham, right, blocks a field goal attempt of Auburn's Daniel Carlson in the second half Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. AP

Auburn’s success on special teams almost played a part in the team’s undoing Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Kicker Daniel Carlson connected on field goals from 53- and 33-yards out against Vanderbilt.

The glimpses of Auburn’s special teams unit in action caught linebacker Zach Cunningham’s attention.

“I noticed the center (Ike Powell) had a cadence,” Cunningham said after the game.

When Auburn sent Carlson out to end Vanderbilt’s comeback hopes with less than two minutes on the clock, Cunningham called an audible.

“I went to the sideline and asked Coach if I was able to jump over the center because I noticed he had a cadence,” Cunningham said. “They said do it, so that’s what I decided to do.”

Cunningham’s proposal was easier said than done.

For the All-SEC linebacker to avoid a penalty, he couldn’t jump over Powell, land on anyone or cross the line ahead of the snap.

The one-time Auburn target executed the block flawlessly by leaping over guard Alex Kozan. The graceful high-jump earned a “holy cow” from ESPN play-by-play man Mike Patrick.

“That kid is unbelievable,” Vanderbilt wide receiver C.J. Duncan. “He does it every day at practice, he does it every game. He shows up when we need it. That’s exactly what he did. He’s a heck of an athlete. We’re just glad to have him on our side.”

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn pleaded for a penalty flag, but a review showed it was a clean play.

“You don’t see that every day,” Malzahn said after the game.

Defensive back Joshua Holsey turned the play into a footnote of Auburn’s 23-16 with a late interception, but it could have been the defining play of the season had the Tigers lost.

“Zach Cunningham does what we ask great players to do which is make a play,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “He said, ‘Coach, do you want me to go over the top?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, if you can find a crease, go get it.’ That’s exactly what he did and he blocks it.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra

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