STARKVILLE — Taylor Arnold welcomed a second chance Friday night.
This time, though, the Starkville Academy senior didn’t have to make a play at running back or safety. It didn’t matter because Arnold was ready to deliver a game-winning play with his right foot.
Arnold’s 41-yard field as time expired Friday night lifted the Starkville Academy football team to a 17-14 victory against Pillow Academy in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools non-division game in Greenwood.
“I don’t do anything special,” Arnold said. “I just take three steps back and two to the left and then I just wait on it.”
For his accomplishment, Arnold is The Dispatch’s Prep Player of the Week.
Arnold’s kick helped Starkville Academy improve to 7-0 in advance of its game against Canton Academy at 7 p.m. Friday. The Volunteers already are off to a 1-0 start in MAIS Class AAA, District 2 play.
“He is an athlete,” Starkville Academy coach Chase Nicholson said. “He takes his one-two, one two and he kicks it.
“I think he does a good job of not overthinking it and just kicking the ball. He is confidence enough in his abilities. He knows what he can do.”
Arnold, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior, also plays running back and safety for the Volunteers in addition to handling kick and punt return duties. His game-winning kick made him 5-for-8 in field goals (long of 41 yards). He also is 20-for 22 in extra points.
Arnold said he didn’t have time to think back to missed kick earlier in the game, which he admitted made him pretty upset. He thought Pillow Academy would use a timeout to ice him, or to make him think about the kick, but he didn’t have to wait to deliver the final dagger.
“I didn’t really have time to think about it, which was good,” Arnold said. “I try not to think about all of the stuff that could possibly go wrong and make me miss it.”
Nicholson had confidence in Arnold to make the kick, even though he admitted he initially thought about playing for overtime. He said he asked defensive coordinator Brad Butler and assistant coach Tony Stanford and both offered suggestions for possible plays on third down. Quarterback Garrett Lewis responded by hitting Howell Archer on a back-shoulder throw right at the first down marker on about a 15-yard pass play to set the stage for the kick. Unfortunately, a low snap on the next down hit Lewis in the leg and pushed the Volunteers back, but Arnold wasn’t fazed. He didn’t do anything differently and was anxious for another shot, which turned out to be his first game-winning kick.
“I saw that sucker got some serious up with it,” Nicholson said. “There was no doubt it was going in. It barely eked in there, but there was no doubt it was going in. He drilled it.”
“He has had a couple where he has missed along the way that he has had to kick again and get redemption,” Nicholson said.
On its previous possession, Starkville moved into position to score and was forced to try for a field goal. Nicholson said he thought Arnold faced a similar situation to the game in Magnolia Heights when he kicked a season-long 41-yarder after missing a field goal earlier in the game.
This time, all of the Starkville Academy coaches had a feeling Arnold was going to make the kick. In fact, Nicholson said assistant coach Trace Lee told him afterward that he was ready to take off his headsets and come down onto the field because he felt so good about Arnold’s chance to execute.
“The first one, he barely missed it,” Nicholson said. “He didn’t blame himself, but he knew if he got another chance he wasn’t going to miss again.”
Arnold, who earned a little experience kicking in the ninth grade, said he knew he “had the leg” to make the kick. He said the kick started to the right of the goal post and then faded back in before going through the uprights. For someone who usually scores his points running the football, he said it was “really cool” to kick a game-winning field goal.
“All of my positions are important,” said Arnold, who attempts 20 or so field goals every day from hash mark to hash mark and from different distances. “If somebody asks me what position I play, I don’t say kicker. I tell them running back or safety. Kicking is just as important as the other things. It can win or lose a game, just like last week.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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