As if avoiding their first 1-4 start in 43 years or fighting for coach Mike DuBose's job weren't motivation enough, the Crimson Tide (2-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) drew inspiration from the movie "Remember the Titans."
"It's about tightness and people changing and coming together," said DuBose, who took his team to see the film Friday night. "The critical part is our team needed to come together.
"Thank God for our young men. This is a big, big win for our football team."
South Carolina (4-1, 2-1), off to its best start since 1988, has lost all 10 meetings with the Tide.
"I'm upset because we're better than that," said Gamecocks coach Lou Holtz, who has resurrected a program that entered the season on a 21-game losing streak. "I think we're a pretty competitive SEC football team. But you can't make stupid mistakes."
Zow, who lost the starting job after two games, entered on Alabama's third series and never left. He sealed the victory with a tackle-breaking 8-yard touchdown run with 4:57 left, eluding a defender's grasp in the backfield and racing to the left.
The play was designed to go right.
"I got to the line and I was thinking of running the play the other way but I didn't call it," said Zow, who was 14-of-26 for 149 yards with an interception. "So they snapped the ball and I went the wrong way."
That play was set up when Lewis stepped in front of Phil Petty's pass and returned it 15 yards. A personal foul gave Alabama the ball at South Carolina's 26.
Two plays later, Zow scramble 11 yards to the 3. He scored after a delay of game penalty pushed the Tide back.
Petty, who didn't start because of a sprained ankle, twice brought the Gamecocks back from 10-point deficits in the second half.
He threw TD passes of 19 and 28 yards to Jermale Kelly. The 28-yarder, set up by Sheldon Brown's 36-yard interception return, snapped a string of six straight incompletions, including Lewis' first pick. It brought South Carolina to 20-17 with 10:20 left in the game.
Alabama went three-and-out on its next series, but four plays and a Gamecocks personal foul penalty later, Lewis came up with another interception.
Tailback Ahmaad Galloway had put the Tide up 20-10 with a 62-yard run with 29 seconds left in the third quarter.
He had gained just 15 yards on his first nine carries.
The Gamecocks, who had given up only 10 second-half points in their first four games, allowed 17 to the Tide.
"As the game went along, Alabama stepped it up to a higher level," South Carolina tailback Derek Watson said. "They capitalized on our mistakes."
Zow entered the game with a woeful 58.0 passing rating and didn't play at all in last week's loss to Arkansas.
He replaced Tyler Watts, who had completed his last five passes after opening with an interception. Watts was bothered by a hamstring injury.
Petty, who didn't start because of a sprained ankle, took over after Eric Kimrey and Dondrial Pinkins had alternated for most of the first three quarters. He was 7-of-19 for 151 yards.
Kimrey was 13-of-22 for 113 yards and was intercepted once.
In the first half, South Carolina failed to cash in on three trips inside the Tide 10, with Bethea missing attempts of 28 and 21 yards, and Marcus Spencer picking off Kimrey's attempt.
Neal Thomas kicked field goals of 43 and 50 yards for Alabama.
The win came after a week when DuBose came under fire from critics.
"We always knew we could do it, and the fans deserved more than what we've been doing," Lewis said. "After this game, we really showed it to the people who didn't believe."
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