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East Meadow's Rich Ohrnberger at center of Chargers' playoff win over Bengals

San Diego Chargers guard Rich Ohrnberger (74) celebrates

San Diego Chargers guard Rich Ohrnberger (74) celebrates after a 27-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in an NFL wild-card game. (Jan. 5, 2014) Credit: AP

CINCINNATI - Rich Ohrnberger didn't have time to be nervous. Once he saw that Chargers center Nick Hardwick had suffered a neck injury in the first quarter of Sunday's playoff game against the Bengals, it was right to work.

"Just a few practice snaps on the sidelines, and that was pretty much it," said Ohrnberger, 27, who starred at East Meadow High School.

But Ohrnberger, playing in his first career playoff game, did a terrific job in place of Hardwick, regarded as one of the top centers in football. He helped the Chargers rush for 196 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-10 win over the Bengals.

"I wasn't expecting to play, but as a backup, you always have to be ready," said Ohrnberger, a fourth-round pick of the Patriots in 2009. "We practice all the time, and I'm at guard and center, so you try to make it where the offense isn't missing a beat. I'm just happy I was prepared and I was able to fill some big shoes -- not quite as good as maybe [Hardwick] would have done it, but I worked hard at it and I'm glad we got the win."

Hardwick suffered what is commonly referred to as a "stinger," an injury he had in a Week 13 loss to the Bengals. If he can't go against Denver, Ohrnberger is expected to start.

Ohrnberger, who was inactive for playoff games during his Patriots tenure, credited his coaches with having him prepared for Sunday's assignment.

"The coaches are always working on fundamentals every single day, and it showed up on the field," he said. "You can go out there and have the same or different players doing the same thing, and it works. It takes all five or six or seven guys, depending on how many blockers are out there, but everybody did a really great job."

The Chargers were particularly good up the middle, with the 6-2, 300-pound Ohrnberger doing much of the heavy lifting.

Ohrnberger was a two-year captain at East Meadow before playing at Penn State. He was named the New York AA Player of the Year in 2003 and was a two-time All-Long Island selection. Ohrnberger won the Thorp Award as Nassau's most outstanding player and the Martone Award as the top lineman. He also played lacrosse.

"I sort of found football when I was in eighth grade, when my mom finally let me play," Ohrnberger said. "I loved it, so I kept going with it. Early on, my mom was worried about me getting hurt."

And now? He smiled and said, "She's dealing with it now."

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