ARLINGTON — Anyone who was so impressed with Guyer quarterback Jackson Arnold after the 2019 state title game that they anointed him a future star wasn’t wrong. Arnold has arguably been all of that and more this season as a junior, looking nothing like the wide-eyed freshman who was unfairly thrown into the deep end two years ago.
And he doubled down on all of those points in Saturday’s rematch with Austin Westlake.
Despite Guyer coming up short against Westlake for the second time in three seasons in a 40-21 loss in the Class 6A Division II title game, Arnold was a big reason why the Wildcats had a chance to win in a game where they were underdogs.
“He’s such a good decision-maker,” Guyer coach Rodney Webb said of his first-year starter. “We wanted to put the decisions in his hands as much as we can. You have to have a lot of trust in your quarterback to give him that responsibility. There’s really nothing we aren’t willing to let him read on the field.”
Arnold halfheartedly agreed, admitting that he feels more confident these days.
“I don’t think I played like a star tonight,” Arnold said. “But I feel better knowing I played a lot better than two years ago.”
A quick history lesson: Guyer and Westlake squared off at AT&T Stadium in 2019. Guyer lost then-starter Eli Stowers to a devastating knee injury seven plays into that game and was forced to put Arnold in at quarterback. Heading into that game, Arnold didn’t expect to see the field. He’d only attempted one pass on varsity that season.
Westlake proceeded to obliterate Arnold and the Wildcats while rolling to a 24-0 win.
But what everyone talked about afterward was how poised Guyer’s freshman was.
He took a pounding over and over again — and he kept getting back up.
“The kid has a major-league arm and is a good athlete,” then-Guyer coach John Walsh told the Denton Record-Chronicle immediately after that 2019 loss. “But to play Austin Westlake in Week 16 as a freshman is a tall order. We kept getting behind the chains and not letting him get some momentum going. We had to help him more, and we didn’t.”
The biggest difference in Saturday’s title rematch was that Arnold was Guyer’s focal point offensively. The junior, who has offers from the likes of Stanford, Arkansas, Notre Dame, TCU and more, finished with 182 passing yards, 49 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. And he did all of that despite being sacked nine times.
His 15-yard touchdown run with 5:16 left in the first quarter gave Guyer a 7-6 lead. After Westlake reclaimed the lead not even three minutes later, Arnold engineered another scoring drive, capping it with a 9-yard pass to Jace Wilson.
With 6:46 left in the third quarter, Guyer led 21-20 after Arnold rumbled in for a 6-yard touchdown run.
“Two years ago, it was a situation I was thrown into,” Arnold said. “After that state title game, I noticed the next year against Hebron how much slower the pace was. We knew [tonight that] we had to fight, and that it would be a close game. As soon as [Westlake] scored, especially coming out of halftime, we knew we had to drive and score to keep it a close game.”
Guyer may not have won Saturday’s game, but Webb finds solace in the fact that his quarterback will be back in the fold next year as they try to climb the mountain once again. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“He did a great job tonight making decisions,” Webb said. “Those were the two best quarterbacks I’ve seen all year playing in this game tonight.”
STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 469-360-3611 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.