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Auburn linebackers, defense raise their level of play for injured teammate Cassanova McKinzy

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) throws a pass as Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy (8) pressures him during the first half of the Birmingham Bowl NCAA college football game, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Birmingham, Ala. (Butch Dill | AP Photo)
Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) throws a pass as Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy (8) pressures him during the first half of the Birmingham Bowl NCAA college football game, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Birmingham, Ala. (Butch Dill | AP Photo)

Linebacker Cassanova McKinzy’s collegiate career ended in front of his hometown fans at Legion Field Wednesday in bittersweet fashion.

Auburn delivered the win McKinzy had hoped for, but an injury relegated the senior to a bystander.

McKinzy hurt his right leg chasing Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch out of the pocket in the second quarter of the Birmingham Bowl.

While Auburn didn’t reveal the extent of the injury, McKinzy did not return to the game and watched the second half on crutches from the sidelines.

McKinzy played his high school football at Woodlawn High School a mere five miles from Legion Field.

For fellow linebacker Kris Frost, it was an emotional turning point in the game.

“It was hard for all of us, especially the linebacking core to see that,” Frost said of his longtime teammate. “This is his city, and he wanted to put on a show for his family and friends. We kept saying in the locker room that we have to raise our level now.”

The defense upped their already high-level of intensity as it became the first team this season to keep a high-powered Memphis offense out of the end zone.

Linebacker Jeff Holland had a late sack playing in McKinzy’s spot while Frost credited JaViere Mitchell for doing a “good job” in relief.

“Injuries happen, but the game of football is all about adjusting to the flow of the game,” Frost said.

McKinzy didn’t register any statistics in the 31-10 win to finish his senior year with 74 tackles (10 for a loss), a team-high five sacks and 20 quarterback hits.

The linebacker’s injury could impact his NFL aspirations. A significant injury would prevent him from participating in Auburn’s pro day and likely negatively impact his draft stock.

“We are praying for Cass,” Frost said. “We know he will be back as soon as possible.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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