STRATFORD -- If there's one thing the Masuk football team has hung its hat on throughout the years, it's been scoring points.

Usually in bunches.

Pitted against Middletown in the Class L quarterfinals Wednesday night, Masuk, however, found itself in the unusual position of going into the locker room at halftime with a big fat zero sitting under its name on the scoreboard for the first time in years, trailing 14-0 at Bunnell's Bulldog Field.

Instead of airing it out from its typical spread offense, the fourth-seeded Panthers opted to use their power-rushing "rock" formation to get back into the game. The old-school, smash-mouth formation coupled with a suffocating defense turned the game on its head as Masuk rallied for a 21-14 victory.

"It's worked for us all year, so we went back to it and jammed it down their throats," Panthers' senior guard Stergios Koutikas said.

Masuk (10-1) finished the game with 21 consecutive rushing plays, capped by Frank Bacarella's 9-yard effort in the final minute that allowed the Panthers to run out the clock and set up a showdown against No. 1-seeded Hand on Sunday -- a rematch of last year's semifinal won by the Tigers 35-14.

"We went in at half, we weren't scared," said Bacarella, who ran for 55 yards in the second half along with a touchdown. "We had a lot of energy, we had to get it out. We weren't able to put it together. In the second half, we made our blocks and we made our cuts and we got it in."

Down 14-0 thanks to second-quarter touchdown runs by Middletown's Dario Highsmith and Isaiah Thompkins, Masuk first went to the "rock" formation near the goal line on its second possession of the third quarter. It set up a Joseph DaMota 1-yard plunge with 6:15 left -- Masuk's first points since the second quarter of its 21-14 loss to Newtown in the SWC championship game last week.

Panthers' coach John Murphy saw enough from the formation to stick with senior Brandon Charney under center, replacing ineffective starter Malik Cummings. It also ensured Bacarella and the dangerous Thomas Milone (104 rushing yards) would get the ball in their hands.

"Once we started having success, I wasn't going to beat my head against the wall and go back," Murphy said. "It was the best way to get the ball to Thomas and Frank. Our offensive line played so well."

Masuk got to within 14-13 on Bacarella's 4-yard run late in the third.

Meanwhile, Middletown -- which had gashed Masuk on the ground for nearly 150 yards in the first half thanks mainly to the elusive Highsmith, its sophomore quarterback -- began to shoot itself in the foot with numerous costly penalties at key moments. The Blue Dragons only got the ball four times in the second half and the Panthers held them to a mere 57 total yards.

"We self-destructed in the second half," Blue Dragons' coach Sal Morello said. "They took advantage. Can't take anything away from them."

Masuk also caught a huge break when, trailing 14-13 with under four minutes remaining, Bacarella fumbled on third down deep in Middletown territory. It bounced right into the hands of lineman Tyler Camp to keep the drive alive.

On the next play, Masuk faced a fourth and 5, but made Middletown jump offside. DaMota converted the fourth-and-short, scoring from 2 yards out on the ensuing play. Milone's sweep around the right end for two points made it 21-14 with 2:58 left.

Highsmith drove Middletown to midfield, but the Panthers' defense forced consecutive incompletions to get the ball back to the offense with 90 seconds left.

"(After the Newtown game), our confidence was a little banged up," Murphy said. "When we have the success we've had, sometimes you take it a little for granted. One of the things we said was we're going out here tonight to find a way to practice (Thursday)."

Class L quarterfinal

At Bunnell

MIDDLETOWN 0 14 0 0--14

MASUK 0 0 13 8--21

Mi--Dario Highsmith 5 run (Van Uk kick)

Mi--Isaiah Thompkins 1 run (Uk kick)

Ma--Joseph DaMota 1 run (Chris Rubis kick)

Ma--Frank Bacarella 4 run (kick failed)

Ma--DaMota 2 run (Rubis kick)

Records: Middletown 8-3; Masuk 10-1