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Dec. 28, 1999

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Illinois and Virginia may end up putting on the best show to precede theMillennium celebration.

Both teams went 7-4 despite some surprising losses midway through the year,but had strong finishes to the regular season and are focused on finishing witha win in the Bowl on Thursday at Pro Player Stadium.

“I’m really happy, pleased and proud for the team, especially theseniors,” Illinois coach Ron Turner said. “It’s been tough on the field, andit’s been tough off the field, but they pulled together. They not only talkedabout winning, they backed it up. There were a lot of doubters out there, butthere were none in here.”

This marks the 13th consecutive season Virginia has won at least sevengames, putting it in exclusive company. Only powers Florida State, Michigan andNebraska are on such a streak.

“We’re happy to be in the Bowl this year,” Virginia coachGeorge Welsh said. “It’s a great reward for us and we’re certainly lookingforward to it. I know the team will be excited about it. We’ll have a good teamthere, we’ll have all our injured players back.”

Illinois, which finished sixth in the Big Ten, shook off a three-gamemidseason losing streak to stun Michigan in Ann Arbor, 35-29. Illinois closedthe season with three wins in its final four games.

“The guys hung together and believed in one another,” Turner said. “Theintensity that they have maintained throughout the last five games isremarkable.”

The Illini didn’t rely on any one player to carry the load. Both the runningand receiving games were by committee and quarterback Kurt Kittner got betteras the season progressed.

Kittner completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 2,448 yards and 22 TDs.

Michael Dean (43 receptions, 566 yards, 4 TDs) led the receiving corps,along with Elmer Hickman (33-241-2) and Brandon Lloyd (27-454-2).

Steve Havard paced the ground attack with 731 yards, followed by RockeyHarvey’s 692 yards.

Defensively, linebacker Danny Clark led the team in total tackles with 115and tackles for a loss with 11. The senior will represent Illinois in the HulaBowl.

Virginia tied Clemson and Georgia Tech for second place in the AtlanticCoast Conference behind No. 1 Florida State with a 5-2 league mark. TheCavaliers suffered a bad loss to Duke midway through the season, but came backto take out Joe Hamilton and Georgia Tech, 45-38, starting a three-gameunbeaten streak heading into Thursday.

Thomas Jones carried the Cavaliers offensively, leading the ACC andfinishing third nationally in both rushing (1,798 yards) and all-purpose yards(2,054 yards). Both marks also set Virginia and ACC records.

Shannon Taylor led the team with 81 tackles, and Jerton Evans led with fourinterceptions.

This is the second meeting between Virginia and Illinois. In their first NewYear’s Day bowl appearance, the Cavaliers fell to the Fighting Illini 31-21 inthe 1990 Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

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