The Bears simply refuse to lose.
Riding a 4-0-7 finish to the regular season — with five of those seven draws being scoreless — the men’s soccer team (5-4-8, 2-0-5 Ivy League) snatched the fourth and final spot in the inaugural Ivy League playoff tournament. In a win-or-go-home first round match on the road against a heavily favored, top-seeded Penn squad (7-3-6, 4-1-2), the Bears pulled out a victory in a phenomenal rollercoaster game decided by penalty kicks after two thrilling overtimes.
Players and coaches alike spoke to the contest’s unique drama.
Goalkeeper Hudson Blatteis ’24 called it “definitely the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of.” Midfielder Levi Pillar ’24 felt the same — “It’s got to be one of the crazier games I’ve ever played in,” he said.
“I’ve never really been a part of a game like that,” said Head Coach Chase Wileman. “We (weren’t) just hanging on for dear life and got lucky — we played really well, and for me I thought we were the better team on the night.”
After a scoreless first half, the Quakers claimed a 1-0 advantage with a goal in the 70th minute. As the clock ran down, it appeared that Penn would earn a tight victory, with Brown pushed to the brink of elimination. But with just two and a half minutes remaining, a deep pass from forward Charlie Adams ’24 met the head of Pillar, who directed it into the side of the net to even the score.
“Knowing (Charlie), he was gonna put a good ball front post,” Pillar said. “I just tried to get in front of my guy and flick it on and put it on target … Charlie and I have been practicing that one for a minute, so it wasn’t all luck.”
“The first half kind of just flew by, and the second half after (Penn) scored, I was just praying,” Blatteis said. “I never lost faith in us and the team, and we came back, and it was electric.”
Playoff games continue to two 10-minute overtime periods, regardless of the score at the end of the first.
Riding their momentum from regulation, the Bears took a 2-1 lead on a dazzling long shot launched by Scott Gustafson ’24. There were eight minutes to play when Penn’s Stas Korzeniowski — the 2022 Ivy League offensive player of the year and second team all-Ivy selection this year — struck a leveling header into the goal to tie the game at 2-2.
Wileman cited containing Korzeniowski as part of the team’s tactical gameplan, saying “anytime that he was on the ball, we wanted to make sure that we doubled and that we were around him.” Wileman added that the team tried to press the ball to Penn’s right side, thinking “their left side was a bit stronger than their right.”
In the 106th minute, when the game appeared destined for penalty kicks, Brown’s Kojo Dadzie ’24 — recently named an All-Ivy selection for 2023 — received a penalty kick opportunity of his own, giving the Bears the opportunity to effectively put the game away.
Dadzie’s shot on goal was blocked by Penn goalkeeper Phillip Falcon III, a first-year making his collegiate debut with their regular starter Nick Christofferson was unavailable, according to the broadcast.
The game would then be decided by penalty kicks.
“I kind of had a feeling it was gonna go to pens, and I knew that if it got to pens, we were gonna win,” Blatteis said. “It’s something I feel most confident with. Once we got to pens, I was more excited than anything else.”
After each team’s first shooter converted, both team’s second kicks were squandered with Blatteis and Falcon making saves.
Penn and Brown each followed with another set of good shots before a Quaker misfire and crafty stutter-step from Lorenzo Amaral ’26 gave Brown a 3-2 advantage.
Up next was Penn’s Aaron Messer, who launched the ball over the goal and beyond the fence of the field. Blatteis didn’t wait for it to land before breaking towards his Brunonian teammates to celebrate.
“I think we just kept ourselves in it, and I think we really believed that we were gonna score in a way that maybe we hadn’t this season,” Blatteis said. “Once we got back in it, I think we were the better team and I think we wanted it more.”
“I think it starts with confidence and belief,” Wileman said of the Bears’ approach against Penn. “It’s my second season, and we’ve been really working hard to get the guys to believe that they can win these games and they can do special things … that’s more than half the battle in sport is to get your team to believe.”
Pillar echoed this confidence: “We were the fourth seed and we were playing the home team, but we didn’t feel like we were out of place and didn’t belong.”
“Even while the time was ticking down, none of us thought that we were gonna lose,” Pillar said. “We weren’t gonna let ourselves lose.”
The Bears are sticking in Pennsylvania, where Sunday at 1 p.m. they’ll face the Yale Bulldogs (9-5-3, 3-1-3) in the Ivy Championship game. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. A Bears win would clinch their first NCAA appearance since 2012.
“We came into this season with the goal of winning the league and making the NCAA tournament, and we’ve got one more game to do it,” Pillar said.
“We’re bringing home a ring. We’re bringing home a ring,” Blatteis repeated. “It’s gonna be a good game, but we’ll take it home.”
Linus is a sports editor from New York City. He is a junior concentrating in English, and when he's out of The Herald office you can find him rooting for the Mets, watching Star Wars or listening to The Beach Boys.