By Matt Jenkins
---- — DANVERS — Jackson McPherson’s natural position in soccer may very well be on defense. But Danvers High has needed him to produce goals this season, not stop them.
The Falcons called upon McPherson once again last night in a Division 2 North first round game and the lanky freshman responded by recording the first hat trick of his varsity career, including the game-winner with just under three minutes to go in Danvers’ 4-3 victory over Greater Lowell.
Danvers (12-1-6) moves on to play Masconomet tomorrow (2 p.m.) on the road in the quarterfinals.
Greater Lowell, a quick-strike team with speed up top, seemed to be playing with the momentum after cutting Danvers’ two-goal cushion to one late in the first half, then netting the equalizer with just under 15 minutes to play. Despite struggling to score goals at times this season, the Falcons remained confident down the stretch.
“Every goal we scored, they scored right back. Right after we got our hopes up, they’d bring us right back down. Somebody had to come up big to score,” McPherson said. “We called a timeout and everyone knew that we were going to win. If it wasn’t then, we were going to go to overtime and win then.”
McPherson made sure overtime never became an issue. Senior midfielder Ryan Kelleher crossed the ball from the right corner and McPherson got enough of it to put it away with 2:56 to go.
“I just flicked it off my head and it went bottom post,” McPherson, far and away Danvers’ leading goal scorer with 19 this season, said.
McPherson made the Falcons as a defender, but a silent offensive preseason forced Danvers head coach Mike Chase to make a move.
“Jackson plays defense for his club team (Aztecs) and all preseason we had him in the back, but we couldn’t score. We went a couple hundred minutes in the preseason without a goal,” Chase said. “We had to make some adjustments, and he was looking good. He could hit the ball, so we said we’ll try him up top. He was excited. It was a nice change of events for him.”
Greater Lowell (8-7-4) struck first when Gbah Dualu got behind the defense for a goal less than three minute in. Danvers senior captain Zach Noring knotted it at 1-1 when he headed in Kelleher’s long throw-in with 22 minutes to play in the first half.
McPherson put the Falcons on top when the ball squirted loose out front with 19 minutes to go. He put that one away for a 2-1 advantage, then 13 minutes later blasted one home from 35 yards out to push the advantage to 3-1.
“I didn’t think it was going in,” McPherson said about his second goal. “I just stopped and hit it and bent it in. It went right over the goalie; it was pretty lucky.”
Mike Ricard knocked in a goal off a free kick to pull Greater Lowell within one goal late in the first half. Casey Rivera tied it for Greater Lowell when the Falcons were unable to clear the ball with just under 15 minutes to play.
Shortly after McPherson put Danvers on top 4-3, Meshach Dunn beat the Danvers defense to a ball down the right sideline, snuck past the keeper and put a shot on net that was kicked off the goal line by senior captain Matt Kidney.
Now, Danvers gets a shot at No. 3 seeded Masco.
“They’re a big, physical, strong, quality program over there. We’ve got our hands full,” Chase said. “They’re talented at every position; they remind us of St. John’s Prep, which gave us a hard time early in the year. We’ll have to make some adjustments to get ready for them. You can’t really focus on one guy because if you do, they’ll just beat you somewhere else.”