PROVO — It certainly was not the start that BYU wanted in its first scrimmage of fall camp.
While blocking for the return team on the opening kickoff, sophomore Iona Pritchard suffered a season-ending injury — a broken leg and dislocated ankle — that will require surgery.
That injury cast a pall on the scrimmage for the Cougars and the estimated 7,000 fans that turned out to LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday morning.
"Losing Pritchard on the very first play, you could tell the air went out of the stadium," said linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga, who oversees the kickoff return team. "The emotion was lost the rest of the scrimmage, which was unfortunate for him, first of all. But then the players were playing tentative. It's hard to lose a guy like that on our kickoff team because he was going to be a stud.
As Pritchard lay on the turf, receiving medical attention, players on both the offense and defense walked onto the field to support him.
"He was apologizing for being hurt," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "Amazing."
Pritchard, who was carted off the field, was having an outstanding fall camp as a fullback, said Mendenhall, who compared Pritchard to former Cougar fullback Manase Tonga.
"Iona's role was continuing to expand. We really believed he was another version of Manase," Mendenhall said, adding that seeing a player suffer an injury like that is "the worst part of coaching."
Once the scrimmage began, quarterback Jake Heaps engineered a 78-yard touchdown drive on the first series. Heaps went 5-for-5, including a 15-yard TD pass to McKay Jacobson.
While it was the offense's only touchdown of the day, Mendenhall and offensive coordinator Brandon Doman liked what they saw.
"I think the offensive line was maybe the most cohesive group that stood out the most. I liked how physical they were today," Mendenhall said. "Jake and the receivers played about how they had during camp. But I thought the biggest step forward was our physical play at the offensive line and how we ran the ball."
Doman said the offense needs to limit "mental mistakes," such as false start penalties.
"We mounted some good drives and I think we're on our way," Doman said. "We didn't make many physical mistakes. We've got guys who make physical plays. The mental (part of the game) is going to come after the physical."
On the day, Heaps completed 7-of-9 passes for 105 yards.
"Jake missed a touchdown throw on a corner route," Doman said. "He bulleted it. He threw a fast ball rather than a changeup. He'll learn. It was a brand new play that we put in today. Other than that, he made every single play."
"I was really impressed with the way Jake played. He continues to improve and get better," Mendenhall said. "I like his poise, I like his maturity. I like where he's putting the football."
Heaps was pleased with the offense, but knows theres still work to do.
"I feel like everything's clicking," Heaps said. "As on offense, we're doing really well and becoming a good football team. That's making plays. For us to be a great offense, I have to play well and read the plays and lead this team. I feel confident in that. I made a few mistakes out there that I'll get corrected and make sure that they don't happen again. Overall, I love this football team and our offense."
Mendenhall's evaluation of the defense?
- Brad Rock: LaVell, McBride not OK with...
- BYU football: 5 questions with a Virginia...
- Ex-Ute gets gift of life with new heart from...
- High school football: Felt's Facts for Week...
- BYU defense, offense being noticed for...
- Go long? So far, deep passes not a big part...
- Parry's Power Guide for week 5
- BYU confirms Jim McMahon will be inducted...
- Utah football: Utes' 2015 schedule... 103
- BYU center Tejan Koroma's penalty... 78
- Red and Blue Recruits: Breaking down... 61
- Brad Rock: LaVell, McBride not OK with... 59
- Dick Harmon: Is BYU quarterback Taysom... 54
- No. 21 BYU preparing for a Virginia... 50
- If BYU and Utah played on the gridiron... 47
- Go long? So far, deep passes not a big... 40