The Sixth Man

Watch members of the Aquinas Tailgating Coalition in action.

Greenbrier faced all the fire Aquinas could muster Tuesday night.

The Wolfpack squared off against at least a dozen boys who are going to make serious noise in college basketball.

The Aquinas crowd was what made a seven-point win seem dicey. Those students will make noise in college gyms, if not shots one day.

"They are almost like the Cameron Crazies at Duke," Aquinas coach Bernie Norris said. "The rules say we can only play with five, but we play with six at home. They are our sixth man."

That's because of how "The Aquinas Tailgating Coalition went about supporting their team. Lost in the hoopla of the only game in town that had a bonfire sanctioned by a county fire department was a 62-56 win for the visiting team.

The ATC seemed that serious about support. They grilled hamburgers. They tailgated listening to everything from Irish folk songs to Lynyrd Skynrd. They had their own T-shirts which read "ATC" and "It's Rally Time" on the back.

"We were playing Warren County the other night," Norris said. "I looked at my assistant coach and told him our fans were nothing but first class. I mean I played college ball. When you have fans like that, it sends a tingle through your body."

The student group painted faces. They chugged Rally Cola by the case. Then they wore the cases it came in as cardboard berets.

They mocked Greenbrier guard Nolan Belcher with posters. Belcher is 5-foot-7. He became a natural target for posters and chants referring to him as "Oompa Loompa" from the movie "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

"We're against anybody on the court who isn't with us," Aquinas student Patrick Douglas said. "That's the other team. Their fans. Referees. Everybody."

Rally time came when the Irish (7-8) shaved a deficit that got as large as 15 points to 58-56 with 1:43 left to play. But Greenbrier sophomore Bryan Andrews finished with a flourish, similar to how he began the game.

Andrews had 18 points at the half. He scored another nine in the fourth quarter, including six of his game-best total over the final 2:30 of the game.

The synergy he had with Anthony Williams in the first half was impressive. Andrews and Williams had 28 of Greenbrier's 34 points at the half. Their play was about the only thing able to pull one's attention away from the antics of the stars of the night.

The ATC has a brick that gets held aloft and pointed to whenever opposing shots clang off the rim. Not even the early 19-5 lead the Wolfpack (18-3) ran stormed out to could take the air out of the home fans.

There was the "Tees for Threes" tradition. When the home team swished a three-pointer, the boys in the student section took off their T-shirts to reveal a painted chest that read "ATC" in neon orange paint. The ATC members then twirled the shirts in the air

They turned their backs when the public address announcer read a statement calling for civil fan behavior. They refused to take their seats at any point of the contest, including halftime.

It was all good clean fun.

"They are all nuts," Aquinas football coach Jim Connor said. "But it's a good kind of nuts. Every school needs kids like that."

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.