HARRISONBURG — Riley Stapleton is finally seeing his hard work pay off.
The JMU redshirt sophomore wide receiver had a career-best night on the biggest stage. Stapleton had eight catches for 189 yards receiving in JMU’s 31-28 victory over Weber State in the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals last weekend.
“It was a lot of hard work,” Stapleton said after last weekend’s win. “(JMU strength and conditioning coach) Big John (Williams) over the summer worked us pretty good. It’s just one of those things you just work hard every day and just do your job like coach emphasized (before the game). Just do your job and if you do that we’re gong to have a chance to win at the end.”
Stapleton made play after play throughout the game, including a one-handed grab early in the second quarter. He also caught two big passes on JMU’s game winning drive in the final minutes of the game.
Stapleton’s 15-yard reception from senior quarterback Bryan Schor in the final seconds set-up JMU kicker Ethan Ratke’s game-winning field goal.
“Riley was awesome,” JMU redshirt senior Terrence Alls said. “Play after play he made ’em. Third downs, crunch time, fourth quarter — he made those plays. And I’m proud of him. I know those plays he can make, because he makes them in practice. And for him to do it on a stage like this — I’m happy for him. And moving forward we’ve got another game and hopefully he’ll just build it up from there.”
Stapleton entered the game with 22 catches for 249 yards and two touchdowns. JMU head football coach Mike Houston said that he’s been waiting for the 6-foot-5 receiver to have a game like the one he had last weekend.
“He had a great spring and a great summer,” Houston said. “He’s battling some injury stuff this year, but we really felt like coming into this season he was capable of those kind of games, because he’s worked so hard with his speed and his physicality. And he’s got great length. And he’s really started to gain confidence this year. So I think its great to see him have a night like that, because I think he can be that playmaker there at the X receiver.”
Stapleton said things weren’t going as smoothly as he would have liked early in the game against Weber State.
“But starting off the game I wasn’t winning off the ball, and Bryan (Schor) just kept his faith in me and just kept throwing at me,” Stapleton said. “And I was fortunate enough to make some plays.”
Schor broke the JMU career passing record during the game, but said it was the plays that Stapleton made that helped him achieve the record.
Schor said it was great to see Stapleton have so much success in such a big game.
“I’m just so proud of the way he’s worked, the person he’s become, the player he’s become,” Schor said. “And he kind of grew up right in front of us. And we’re so happy just to watch everything he’s done.”
The Dukes (13-0) will host South Dakota State University (11-2) at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday in the FCS semifinals at Bridgeforth Stadium.The game will be televised on ESPNU.
Alls said that Stapleton’s play has a huge impact on how defenses may try to defend JMU going forward.
“It definitely puts a burden on defensive coordinators, like who they want to guard, because we have a lot of playmakers at receiver,” Alls said. “And I feel like if one of us gets hot or two of us gets hot, there’s somebody else that can also get hot. It puts pressure on the secondary, which I feel like puts our offense at an advantage. If you drop start dropping more people (back) we can run the ball more effectively, which we kind of did (against Weber State). Riley’s play was definitely big for us.