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Penn against Harvard. The country’s No. 4 team against the No. 3 team. But it wasn’t football that dominated the headlines the weekend of Oct. 29, 1971. No, that was the other game.

Forty years ago, Penn took part in one of college soccer’s greatest games when it knocked off two-time defending Ivy champion Harvard, 5-2. In front of 11,500 fans — a collegiate attendance record at the time — the Quakers moved within a game of the 1971 Ivy League championship, which would become their first outright title ever.

“People exaggerate about playing above a hundred percent, but this was truly full out,” said Joseph Bilello, who was one of the five seniors on the team. “There was a real commitment and vision about winning. It all came together … and the crowd was just nuts.”

The week leading up to the game provided quite possibly the most buzz ever for a Penn soccer game. The Quakers faced a Crimson team that had steamrolled the competition the previous two years by winning 17 straight Ivy games.

However, Penn was ready to answer the call. Fresh off two appearances in the NCAA tournament, the Quakers felt their time had finally come.

“We had a confidence that we were just going to win,” said midfield fulcrum and senior tri-captain Stan Startzell.

The game began as a tense physical affair, with Penn taking two leads, but Harvard equalizing both times. As Penn continued to maintain possession, Harvard became increasingly frustrated and resorted to a kick-and-run approach while trying to find Charlie Thomas and Felix Adedeji down the wings.

“We were pretty early on to the possession-based [style] … and having all the team working together offensively and defensively,” said Bob Watkins, one of the senior tri-captains.

“If you have the ball, you can dictate the flow . As each minute passed, it seemed as if we would dominate that game, and we did,” he added.

It didn’t help that Harvard had to play on Franklin Field‘s AstroTurf, which played much more like a carpet than a natural grass field.

“We had a definite advantage,” Startzell said. “[We] knew the bounces and the rolls, and it also discouraged slide tackling.”

Shortly after the third period, Penn ramped up the pressure and took the lead — its third goal coming on a long throw from sophomore Steve Baumann, which reached the goalmouth and was turned home by Startzell.

Startzell then played the conductor, setting up Larry Houston and the third senior tri-captain Tom Lieberman, as Penn rang up its fourth and fifth goals and cruised to the win.

When it was all said and done, the world-class performance from Penn’s three-time All-American Startzell — notching two goals and two assists — would be one for the ages.

“They say that the great players will play great in big games,” Watkins said. “He was calm, inventive … and he showed why he was an All-American. As you watched him, you were inspired to do the same thing.”

The next weekend, Penn would go on to defeat Cornell to capture its first outright Ivy League crown. Although the Quakers were upset by Penn State in the NCAA Tournament, the moment was etched in Penn sporting lore.

“It was as close as what I can imagine what a tribal celebration is like,” Watkins said. “People were piling up all over the field, people dancing with each other; first players and then the audience. It was madness.”

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