COLUMBIA, SC - Clemson defensive tackle Damonte McKenezie didn't have time to figure the Tigers' bowl situation when he felt his groin injury worsen in the second quarter against South Carolina on Saturday.
"My leg wanted to say it's hurting so bad," said McKenzie, a senior from Lake City. "But my heart said it's my last one. Just go out there and help this team any way possible and keep on going."
With Clemson leading 7-6 at the time, he couldn't be sure that if he took himself out that he would remember watching his final Clemson game from the sideline.
Clemson will pay another game - either in the Peach or Gator Bowl. But after Clemson's 31-21 win, McKenzie was glad he stuck it out, groin injury and all. He also played the game with a heavily wrapped left elbow, but nothing much bothered McKenzie afterwards.
"It's called a pitcher's elbow," said McKenzie. "I tried to club a guy in the second game, but the guy didn't move. It hyper-extended it."
McKenzie finished the game with two tackles, including a tackle for loss. He ended the regular season with three tackles for loss and a sack. He averaged just over two tackles per game.
"I'm just at a loss for words right now," said McKenzie when he tried to reflect on the week and the season. "I'm one that's just happy to have this break right now - to have some time off."
McKenzie was at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting on Wednesday night when he found out that teammate Javis Austin had attempted suicide. He said the team had spent plenty of time since Wednesday thinking about how to deal with Austin's situation.
"The loss of Javis was just a real inspiration coming in," he said. "It just shows how strong of a unit we have. We spent time trying to find reasons why it happened and it could have broken us apart. Instead of breaking apart, we all came together as a strong team and said let's win this one for Javis."
The defensive line gave up little the entire day. South Carolina rushed for 85 yards, its fourth-lowest total of the season.
"We were trying to mix things up," said defensive coordinator Reggie Herring. "When the game was on the line we got it done."
South Carolina pulled within 24-18 on a 14-yard touchdown run by Andrew Pinnock with 11:29 left in the game. Clemson's defense gave up just three more points on a Steve Florio field goal three minutes later.
"I'll have to give South Carolina credit," said Herring. "They made plays on us and moved the ball at times. I'll give them a little credit. But the bottom line is they got two field goals on stands in the first half. The one field goal in the second half was critical. But when we had to have the guy lay it on the line, our kids were stronger. Really, credit does go to South Carolina for the way they fought for four quarters, but the bottom line is the better team won."
McKenzie is happy about that. His career is extended for one more game. He has some time to heal his injuries and reflect on the season.
"This game gives me and the rest of the seniors a chance to play one more game."